Dealing with Pressure

Posted on October 24, 2011


Angry clients and colleagues?
You know the classic Bowie song! “Pressure pushing down on you, pressing down on you…” I can’t remember the rest of the words because I have a memory for song words as much as a poodle has a brain for calculus. But this is the song felt and sung by many a business analysts who have to deal with clients who have oversized egos, probably under developed phallic hardware and massively unrealistic expectations. Handling this kind of pressure can be difficult as responding to it often triggers behaviours that were learnt a long time ago and since repeated many times. It’s like being in a confrontation where heated argument and verbal defence is quickly required. I know in these situations I’ll often revert to my childhood learnt behaviours which is to scream like a little girl and shout obscene insults as I’m running away. My reactions in client meetings aren’t quite school playground in nature but upon introspection they’re just grown up versions of hysteric screaming girl. Like my verbal shut downs from being aggressively accused of not doing my job or my inarticulate ramblings from overly critical feedback of my analysis. Luckily I’ve since learnt to convert such responses into mature and assertive actions which have improved my confidence and its implicitly commanded greater respect from colleagues and clients alike. Maintaining these child learnt behaviours creates both negative tangible and intangible results. Management are likely to hear or see how you handle these situations and perceive you as ineffective and clients / colleagues will be averse to work with you if they know how you react to disagreeable opinions. Like with any sort of problem, awareness and recognition of it is key. Once you’re able to detect it consistently and quickly the work of being able to over ride it can begin. I found that there were a few things that helped me form new automated responses.

I’m reasonably articulate and confident in interviews but I clam up in high pressure meetings and unknowingly assume a hunched and defensive posture. I’ve tried to adopt the interview mindset within work meetings by associating it with a more positive body language. Now this doesn’t sound like its going to help but there’s a large area of body language research which shows that thoughts and feelings can succeed changes to one’s body language and from personal experience, I’d say it works. Think about your colleagues who you’ve seen easily stand against a verbal barrage. Do they look as if they’re defending themselves from an invisible attacker or are they relaxed and composed? Sure these individuals have the knowledge and experience but another virtue they have is the ability to not easily getstressed in these situations and therefore have better access their reasoned argument and logical thinking.

Giving yourself the time to think and respond is pivotal in turning a heated debate in your favour. I’m not just talking about it in a cliche self help kinda way but actually pausing the meeting as you’re overeager meeting-mates are waiting for your response. It’s one of the weapons in the artillery of a person who’s got the confidence to command the direction of a meeting. Obviously don’t pause for so long that your colleagues think you’ve fallen asleep or that you’re blatantly ignoring them but enough for you to compose yourself and unleash the pertinent counterpunch. What its really about is focussing your attention on what your meeting nemeses are saying, responding in the most effective way and ignoring your emotional self that’s saying ‘shiiit, start fighting or start flying!’ Even if you have clients bombarding you with an emotional torrent of requests and complaints, stopping to think and then act will differentiate yourself as someone who is responsive rather than reactive.

Whilst I don’t like to use cliches, the ol’ prevention is better than cure approach does apply in this instance. If you can anticipate arguments and potential complaints with counterpoints and solutions then the job is half done. Often it will be nigh on impossible to anticipate the fires and falling pianos but this is where the first two points will help. However if you do find that much of your work day is dealing with difficult people there may be some deeper questions to ask about work process and management.

There are numerous lil tips and tricks in handling these high pressure moments but the above are some good ones that have helped me. I’d like to hear about your experiences, how you’ve handled them and if you want I’ll give you my take in what I’d do in those situations. Dealing with these moments of being under fire is like riding a bike, the more you ride the easier it is to dodge those verbal bullets and return that unfriendly fire.