Managers often ask me, ‘how do I stay calm in the face of doing something I feel uncomfortable about?’

In response, I first talk about their internal state when all feels ‘right’.  When your thoughts, beliefs and actions are in agreement with each other.  There is no fight within… only calm. Some call it “congruence”, “peace”, or “clarity”.

At The Manager’s Boot Camp we call it “internal ease”:  a sense of balance… a sense of readiness. More than a pleasant and agreeable state, it is a feedback mechanism that arises from your inner self to give the ‘green light to go ahead’.

There are 4 questions to ask yourself that will help you assess your state of calm in any given situation where you are determining the correct action to take. Let’s use the example of the self-assessment a manager might undergo while preparing for a meeting with a staff member about a performance issue; for example, the case of a staff member routinely dismissing what others say in meetings:

  1. Is there a likely benefit, if I do this, for the person and/or people I am intending to help? For example, if this person is more constructive at meetings everyone will make an important contribution
  2. Do I have the appropriate information to do this? For example, I have specific facts about the person’s behaviour, its impact, the benefits of being constructive, and the consequences for the person if their behaviour continues. 
  3. Do I have adequate skills to do this? For example, I have the listening and communication skills to have the ‘difficult’ conversation about performance issues.
  4. When is the right time to do this? For example, I am scheduling the meeting at a time that works for me and the other person so as to avoid distraction and confusion.

Now consider that while going through this assessment you are feeling “uneasy”, sometimes called being in an “incongruent” state?  This experience is less pleasant, but no less useful.  This sense of unease is feedback that all is not right…you are not in agreement with a thought, feeling or action you are considering. Feeling ill at ease is a signal that you need to reconcile your internal disagreement in order to take effective action.

  • Reassess the benefit; in this case, holding the person to account for their behaviour, knowing the negative impact of repeated behaviour if you don’t help them correct it.
  • Seek an adequate amount of information on which to take action; in this case to specifically describe the person’s behaviour with facts in relation to expectations of appropriate behaviour.
  • If you don’t know how to prepare for the conversation with the staff member, or your skills are still lacking, seek coaching from your peers or boss on how they would approach the situation.
  • Give yourself a reasonable amount of time to prepare but don’t let weeks and weeks go by without addressing the issue to the best of your ability.

If you do not take the time for this preparation you are vulnerable to feeling pressured by circumstances. This may lead you to mention the issue in an impromptu conversation,  such as in the hallway on you way to another meeting. In this situation you likely will not have the time to clarify the issue, to listen, or to answer the other’s questions.

Two more tips will help you stay calm and be effective:

  1. Double check your calm state is ‘valid’ when dealing with important decisions

Sometimes, the sense of internal ease may be based on false pretenses such as having wrong information, ignoring the obvious, or wanting something too much without taking due diligence (you know, if it seems too good to be true it probably isn’t). As a safeguard, double check your rationale:

  • There is a benefit to the organization of dealing with this issue
  • I have all the information I can reasonably expect to have to make this decision at this time
  • I have verified the facts on which I am making this decision

Just as there is often a 2 step authentication process when signing into a website with highly sensitive information, do this for yourself for your most important decisions.

  1. Know the difference between unease and nervous anticipation

Feeling nervous before an important meeting may not mean you are not ready, but rather may be the normal adrenaline that kicks in to help you be energized and focused. As a competitive athlete playing university basketball, I was incredibly nervous before a game, experiencing a great amount of physical discomfort. Fortunately, once the opening tip-off occurred I turned all my energy toward putting our game plan into motion.

To summarize, you can still be and appear calm even though you feel nervous. Separate the nervousness from the confidence that you have prepared as best you can, then assess the outcome, and learn from the experience.

What strategies have you used to stay calm at work? Please share any suggestions or questions in the comment box.