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An essential coping skill for staying cool under pressure—more important than ever in a downturn—is communication. W. Edwards Deming is reported to have once said: "People will do anything rather than talk to each other."
When people are under pressure and feeling stressed, emotions are much closer to the surface. Everyone has their own tension tolerance level—the level where emotions begin to take over and they feel the need to react. At this point in time, the person’s productivity and effectiveness typically plunge to zero.
People who are strong in this coping skill of communication are more aware of their own tension tolerance level and are therefore comfortable talking about their emotions and opinions when they feel their stress levels rising. As a result, they are more productive when difficult situations arise.
The alternative is to bottle it up—to keep your feelings and opinions to yourself. For example: You refrain from telling the other person you’re not happy about what he or she is doing. When people hold back, they tend to stew on things. The issue simmers away, and every moment they are thinking about it, they are not focused on giving their best performance.
Here are some simple steps I have used to help myself be more effective at communicating under pressure:
1. Use the 24-hour rule. Give yourself 24 hours to speak up about something you know you should talk about. The rule gives us a deadline, and it gives us time to think about how to say things right. You don’t have to speak up immediately every time.
2. Realize that what you allow, you teach! When you allow people to behave or speak in inappropriate ways, you teach them that it is O.K. to continue doing it.
3. Refrain from judging people. Ask questions to make sure you fully understand the situation before sharing your thoughts and feelings.
Integro Leadership Institute
West Chester, Pa.
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