Perform Under Pressure
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” We’re all familiar with this saying, and many people believe that they are better off under pressure. But in the 18-plus years of my career, I never felt that.
Let’s get this straight: No one performs their best under pressure. There are situations that bring the best out in you, but that’s completely dependent on your surroundings and the methodology you follow. I may not able to comment on your surroundings, but I hope the following tips will work for you in most cases…
1. Think of high-pressure moments as a challenge instead of a threat.
Many employees see pressure situations as threatening. which makes them under-perform at work. Considering pressure as a threat damages your self-confidence and provokes fear of failure.
It’s a great idea to shift your thoughts. Instead of seeing it as a risky situation, see it a challenge. When you see pressure as your challenge, you are enthused to give the attention and energy required to make your best effort possible. You can practice it in your daily routine by building “challenge thinking.” Do not only consider it as a project, but also see it as an opportunity to make it your best project ever.
2. Slow down.
In high-pressure situations, it’s typical to speed up your thought process. Don’t do that. Thinking too quickly often makes you act before you’re ready. You often jump to a conclusion and miss important information. The best solution is to slow down. Give yourself a minute to breathe and come up with a plan. This way, you will be able to deliver the required creativity and attention, ultimately producing the best outcomes.
3. Focus on one thing at a time.
Once you keep yourself in a positive frame of mind, simply focus on the task at hand. We can all be awful at multitasking; therefore, managing your time efficiently and prioritizing is crucial to productivity. If you slow down and fully engage in every task, it ultimately translates into high performance.
It’s super easy to get diverted, so reorient your brain to respond based on a defined schedule instead of instant cues. Silence your phone and email alerts when you need to focus. Stay away from social media, too! According to Gloria Mark from the University of California, it takes about 26 minutes to recover from trifling interruptions. Just think what you could have done in those precious 26 minutes!
4. Be clear on requirements.
A factor that negatively contributes to project success is unclear requirements. If you are not fully aware of what is expected of you—or if certain requirements are slightly changing—you may feel more stressed. It’s always a good idea to go back to storyboard to see what are you missing.
I know from my professional experience that stakeholders usually resist this idea because they believe they know what they want; but what is actually missing is the same level of understanding with different stakeholders. Therefore, taking a step back and re-validating all the requirements usually helps. Going back to the drawing board clears the doubts and provides a window to think about multiple viable solutions.
5. Stay cool and keep smiling.
Even the most experienced professionals can become flustered when under stress. Though it’s not always easy, try your best to take critiques with a grain of salt on hectic days. Anything as simple as smiling can significantly enhance your happiness at work as it tells your brain to be happier (thanks to the discharge of neuropeptides). Smiling is communicable, and it can make your colleagues smile as well. This helps keeps the temperature down at the workplace.
6. Don’t blame.
Obstacles arise without any indication: a few stakeholders can be less than friendly, or illness can strike on the final day of project execution. Everyone receives curveballs at some phase of their life, so get ready for it. Be flexible and shake off stress if things don’t go your way (easier said than done!).
I learned one thing that plays a vital role in getting through stressful situations: Resist the temptation to search for a scapegoat. Keep your focus on the problem at hand and try to resolve things. Then, based on learning, instill corrective actions.
This behavior helps with long-term rapport building with stakeholders. There is a thin line where you could be biased (or apple polishing, or giving undue favor to any stakeholder); be aware of this. Try to deflate any situation and work on solutions with calmer minds.
7. Have open communication…and ask for help.
On one assignment for a British insurance company, I worked with a senior consultant in his late 50s. He told me that asking for help will save you from many embarrassing moments.
Always listen carefully. Ask for help. Don’t look down upon any advice. Don’t judge any suggestion based on the source. Look for experts and—most importantly —foster clear communication. Positive, constructive communication is a solution to any problem you may face in an organization.
8. Have a Plan B (or worst-case scenario).
Take a break from the high-pressure situation and discuss a Plan B/worst-case scenario with key stakeholders. This will help all the key stakeholders consider the worst things that could happen—and enable everyone to create workarounds.
If not communicated in the right spirit, this could impact performance and the willingness to search for a solution. It’s important to work this out thoroughly because re-work will take time. Stop your search for the right solution at the right time; this will give the team enough space to execute Plan B.
Performing under pressure on your projects—and even in your daily life—can only be achieved if you have a good rapport within your organization! Follows these tips, and share your own in the comments section below!