When people see you as a leader who can stay calm at work during times of stress, then you’ll likely appear more capable than the people around you, even if it’s all an act!
I personally am fortunate that I appear calm in most situations, even when I don’t feel that way. People often tell me that I’m “always calm”. Hah!
Sometimes I remember the situation much differently. During my consulting career I was often dumped in the deep end, trying to figure out what was going on. And I needed to figure it out quickly.
During these times I was stressed, confused and wanted to curl up in a ball in the corner until somebody else figured the whole thing out. Luckily, I managed to stay composed and work through the challenges.
The reality is, leaders who appear calm are perceived as more capable and can build trust more easily. After all, people are more comfortable following someone who appears to have everything under control.
I want you to be able to keep calm too. So let’s look at some good ways that you can stay calm at work.
1. Stay Calm at Work by Remembering You Were Employed for a Reason
Maybe you’re leading a new team or have taken a new role. Or perhaps an urgent situation has just occurred which has you feeling anxious and stressed.
Whatever the case, to stay calm at work, you’re going to need to figure things out.
You’ll need to work with the people involved and understand the situation. Then you’ll need to work out who can help, and what needs to be done.
Don’t panic. Take a deep breath. Think back to a time when you’ve been in a similar situation and how you overcame it.
Remind yourself that you would never have been chosen for this leadership role if you couldn’t handle it. You’ve shown potential and people believe in you.
It doesn’t make much sense for somebody to hire you, and then want you to fail. No – people actually want you to succeed.
If you haven’t been in this situation before and this is all new to you, then that’s good too. That means when you get through this, next time you will have done this before and you can remind yourself of this moment.
Sometimes to stay calm at work, you simply need to remember to believe in yourself. Other people do, so why shouldn’t you?
2. Make a Plan
A common source of overwhelm and stress for leaders is working in uncertain situations, where there is a high degree of ambiguity.
Maybe it’s a tricky new project, or perhaps your company has suddenly decided to cut costs and you need to find out how. One of the best ways you can stay calm at work is to make a plan.
If your situation is uncertain, sit down and brainstorm a list of things you don’t know or understand. Then for each, identify a way to find the answer.
If you just have a lot of work to do, sit down calmly and write yourself a list of tasks. Identify who could work on them and the order in which they need to be completed.
When you complete your plan, you’ll have a little more certainty. You’ll understand whether the timeframe for completing the work is reasonable, or if it’s too much.
If there is too much work in too little time, it’s a good time to address this with your own boss as early as you can.
Putting a plan and structure around the situation makes you appear calm, confident and methodical. This gives confidence to people around you too. They will say:
“Wow, she really knows what she is doing” or “He’s in control of the situation.”
3. Stay Calm at Work by Asking Good Questions
Asking intelligent questions will give you the appearance of being calm and assertive. Remember that even as a leader, you’re not supposed to know everything. In fact, it’s impossible.
If you knew everything, then why would you need a team?
Leaders who can stay calm during situations involving pressure or uncertainty have an ability to sort through information and work out what really matters. They do this by asking questions and working out a logical way forward.
Good Questions to Ask to Help You Stay Calm at Work
The questions you ask should help you to understand the situation, so you can make decisions on the best way to approach it. Your questions should be focused on understanding the priorities and getting to action.
To understand priorities, try:
- When does this task need to be finished?
- Can any of this work wait until later?
- How long will this task take?
- What are the consequences if we don’t do this right now?
- Who are the key people that care about this work?
To get to action, try:
- Who is available to work on this?
- Can another team help us to complete the work?
- What are the steps involved in completing the task?
- What needs to happen first?
Asking good questions should help you to stay calm at work, because you are gathering more information. Gradually, you’ll reduce uncertainty to the point where you can be more confident to take action.
When you understand more about the situation, you’ll be able to assess whether you need more help, or whether you need to escalate your concerns to higher levels of your organisation.
4. Take a Reality Check
Sometimes when people are under pressure, they will place unrealistic expectations on you. Sometimes accepting the situation as it is, is the worst thing you can do.
Spend some time to understand your situation and sense-check your thoughts with others. If it turns out that the situation is not able to be resolved in the time available, then that’s the answer. Nothing will change that.
The best way to remain calm here is to make sure you understand the reasons why you don’t believe the situation can be resolved in the time available. You can use this to discuss the situation with your boss, and to negotiate the best course of action.
Pressure situations are all about balance. Sometimes you’ll need to decide whether to ask your team to work for longer to get extra work done. Other times, you’ll need to make the call that the risk of pushing people harder is not worth the outcome, or won’t make a difference.
As a leader, you need to be able to push back on unreasonable demands. Sometimes, all it takes it to draw a line in the sand and say “No”, for people to start to take you seriously.
Learn More: 5 Ways to Say No Without Getting Fired.
5. Stay Calm at Work by Taking Time to Regroup
Being in a stressful work situation is not pleasant. Sometimes it’s worth remembering that in a few hours, you will be able to go home and regroup.
Remind yourself that this won’t last forever. Your boss will go home and everyone else will too, giving you more time to think.
All things change, and tough situations will eventually pass. That’s not to say you should take your eye off the ball, but remembering this can help you feel more resilient.
When you do get home, this is when you can disconnect and develop a plan of attack for the next day. This will allow you to hit the ground running with confidence.
Now relax. Today was stressful, but tomorrow is another day, and this time you’ll be better prepared.
Are You Struggling to Manage the Tricky Balancing Act of Leadership?
Thoughtful leaders often struggle with managing the tricky balancing act of leadership. This might be the balance between work and the rest of your life, the balance between being firm with your team and being too nice, or the balance between staying silent and saying “no”.
Confidence suffers as you start to doubt yourself, asking “am I doing the right things?”
At the end of the day, you want to get the best out of your people and see them thrive, without doubting yourself or burning yourself out.
If this sounds a little like your situation, then I can help. I coach leaders like you to manage the tricky balancing act of leadership and lead with confidence. I believe that you can be a thoughtful, people-focused leader and get great results at the same time.