Under Pressure

under-pressureMany of us sing in the shower. In fact many of us think we sound good. Some of those who sing well in the shower sing in a choir or community chorus. Singing in a group gives us confidence because mistakes are often covered up or drown out by our fellow singers. Try singing solo. No way! The prospect of having all eyes looking at you is painful. Most of us would rather run the other way and hide under our covers. This is a perfect example of how many of us react under pressure. While signing to an audience is not something most of us do on a regular basis, communicating to our peers or boss at work is something we do daily. Still there comes a time when there is conflict. When conflict arises there are two adverse reactions that we are likely to have, but want to avoid at all costs – stammering or freezing completely. Worse yet, we might say something we regret, but can’t take back. Don’t be that person who puts their proverbial foot in their mouth and becomes the subject of water-cooler gossip.

Bill Benjamin of the Institute for Health and Human Potential has four key points to remember to help us perform well under pressure. Benjamin presented his ideas to the MNODN on Thursday, November 6.

The four key take aways from his presentation were:

  1. Be aware that humans have an emotional defense system that triggers default behaviors.
  2. Apply S.O.S. when under pressure.
  3. Go to the other side of the bridge when in a conversation.
  4. Approach those 17% moments.

The human brain has a processing center called the amygdala. The amygdala is designed to protect us from danger. When threated, the amygdala tells us to shut off all reason and initiate our “fight or flight” response. This is good because it keeps us safe, but bad if we react without thinking.

To avoid an embarrassing or damaging reaction in a pressure situation, use the S.O.S. tools. Stop! Disconnect. Walk away or count to 10. Once removed from the situation Oxygenate. Take a deep breath. Increased oxygen to the brain literally helps the body and mind function better. Finally, Seek information. Get a cognitive appraisal of the situation. Applying S.O.S. helps us act intelligently as opposed to reacting irrationally.

When communicating under pressure start by going to the other person’s side of the bridge and then crossing back to your side. If the other person knows that you stand with them it’s easier to get them to come to your side. Bridge the gap by seeing the situation form their perspective first. Crossing the bridge from their side to your side still gets you both on the same side in the end.

Finally, focus on improving your performance in situations when your reputation is at stake. This is approximately 17% of the time. The rest of the time is business as usual. Reputation-critical moments can be identified when all three of the following elements are present: 1. The outcome is important. 2. The outcome is uncertain. 3. We will be judged by the outcome. Be ready to face these reputation-critical moments. Don’t avoid them, rather approach them. The valleys and plains are easy to conquer. To build and maintain your reputation conquer the hills and mountains.

When pressure situations arise, be ready. Using the strategies mentioned above will help you thrive, not merely survive. It’s the man or woman who shines in the darkness that will rise to the top.

By Steven Shore