Business Perspectives

Ray Hull: The art and influence of poise under pressure

I received a phone call about a week ago from a young woman who wanted to ask me about the process of communication. However, at that moment she didn’t seem to be too sure what she actually wanted to ask.

She said during our conversation that she has a difficult time maintaining her composure, or her poise, during staff meetings. She said that when something she has said in a staff meeting is challenged by a colleague, she tries very hard to remain calm and respond in a professional manner. However, she sometimes “loses it” during their discussion, raises her voice, and uses words that she is embarrassed about later. She said that it distresses her that during staff meetings some of her colleagues are somehow able to goad her into becoming so stressed that she loses her poise and falls apart in front of everyone.

As we talked, a statement by authors Brett and Kate McKay came to mind, so I shared it with her. It is, “Calmness is the rarest quality in human life.” She said that made her feel a little better. But, she wanted some specifics on how to maintain her poise in stressful situations. So, I shared with her something that Sherrie Campbell, clinical psychologist and expert on mastering poise, has said. It is as follows, “Whenever you are in any working group, or a position of responsibility, one way to remain composed is to remember that you always have an audience. Your team members, your other colleagues, and your clients are your audience, and they expect a certain level of calm, serenity, integrity and grit from you.”

We can literally be an example of calm and poise! One way is to think of yourself as being an example of what your colleagues would like to become when faced with stress in their own personal and professional lives.

Here are a few suggestions that I shared with her:

  • Let others know how you feel, but do it calmly and perhaps not too vividly!
  • In a meeting, never, never take a cheap shot, no matter how good it might make you feel at the moment. You will only regret it later.
  • In meetings or in other interpersonal interactions with others, don’t make a big deal out of a trivial issue. If you do, ask yourself “Why?”
  • If someone treats you in an unkind manner, practice forgiving, forgetting and getting over it.
  • And, if you see an argument on the horizon, become a good listener instead. Let the other person vent while you listen quietly. You will win many an “argument” that way, and you won’t find yourself in the middle of a potentially embarrassing situation.
  • In other words, when one person says something that might provoke a negative response or an argument, it is best for us to simply listen quietly no matter how much we would like to enter the fray.
  • Remember: You can never truly win an argument.
  • The best way to win an argument is to avoid it. Don’t participate in it no matter how sure you are that your opinion is correct, or when you see a golden opportunity to jump in.
  • And, remember: You will never get into trouble by admitting that you may be wrong.
  • During a meeting discussion, if you find that what the other person is saying is correct and what you are advocating is probably wrong, even though you sometimes don’t want to admit it, there’s nothing wrong with looking beyond your ego and admitting, “You know, in thinking about it, I believe that you are right!” That simple response tends to stop a potential argument or an embarrassing situation in its tracks, and makes everyone feel better, including you.

I hope these suggestions help. They have helped me!

Ray H. Hull is a professor of communication sciences and disorders at Wichita State University. His new book with Jim Stovall, "The Art of Learning and Self-Development: Your Competitive Edge," recently was released.

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