Things getting heated? Be a calming influence
Emotions are contagious. A couple of months ago, I shared a blog about our emotional state and how, if we’re feeling stressed, the people around us will too.
This is particularly important when you’re in a leadership role and people are looking to you for direction.
But what if it’s your boss who’s stressed out?
Lately, I’ve had a number of conversations with leaders where their line manager is showing signs of stress. For example, they’re being reactive rather than taking the time to make considered decisions, they’re jumping onto details rather than stepping back and holding the bigger picture, they’re showing up as irritable and impatient rather than calm and supportive.
The impact is that those around them get caught up by their agitated state, resulting in their people running around trying to keep them happy but not necessarily addressing the core issue.
It’s clear to me that these line managers are all exhibiting signs of pressure.
It’s tough when the buck stops with you and, when things aren’t going so well, everyone’s looking to you to steer the ship to calmer waters. They’re likely afraid of failing and letting themselves and others down and this fear is leaking out through their behaviour.
The ideal would be that they’re able to manage their emotional state under pressure. However, if that isn’t the case, how can you manage your own state to help influence your working environment for the better, rather than getting caught up in theirs?
There’s a line in the Kipling poem, If : “If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you”.
How powerful would it be if you were able to keep your head and stay calm and centred in the face of other people’s stress?
Here’s some tips to help you be a calming influence :
Awareness first. Notice what happens to your state when things around you are getting heated. You might notice tension in your body, perhaps your breathing becomes shallow and your heart beats faster.
Slow things down. Feel your feet on the ground. Take slow, even breaths in and out through the nose. Try to release areas of tension. Make an effort to speak more slowly than feels normal.
Take the lead. If your manager is going at 100mph and diving into the detail, can you suggest taking a moment to step back and clarify the objective and desired outcome for the conversation? What’s the bigger picture? When we’re stressed, it’s all about survival and zoning in on the here and now.
Be brave. If it feels appropriate to do so, consider having a conversation with them to share what you’re noticing about their behaviour and its impact. They may not be aware of the extent of their impact.
One leader I work with experimented with techniques to stay calm and centred in the weekly leadership team meeting. It wasn’t a magic bullet. However, her behaviour did help to slow things down and create a calmer atmosphere, more conducive to clearer thinking and considered decision-making.
Your ability to manage your emotional state under pressure has the capacity to influence your organisation’s capacity to focus on and realise its vision and goals. Have courage.
Alison Reid helps new Directors focus on what matters, communicate with impact and stay calm and effective under pressure so they can lead themselves and others to great results. She's the author of Unleash Your Leadership : How to Worry Less and Achieve More. Download an extract or buy the book.