Performance coach Mark Sheasby developed techniques of maintaining composure under duress during high-stakes situations as a police firearms commander in siege interventions. He has since used that knowledge to help police negotiators, elite athletes, and businesspeople thrive under pressure. Sheasby explains how everyday professionals can build resilience and improve their performance under pressure — whether it’s in an interview, board presentation, or delicate negotiation.
“When you’ve got rapport, you can influence people,” Sheasby says. “Listen to people and try to understand the world through their eyes. Find something they are interested in, such as a hobby, and get them talking about it. Once they are talking, you are building rapport. You can use rapport to work with people who completely disagree with your position, and influence them.”
In a conflict, listening to the structure of what someone is saying can also reveal that person’s subconscious beliefs, which can help you overcome their objection or resistance to a situation.
Be clear about your ideal outcome
In a high-pressure situation, it is vital to retain a clear idea of what you want to achieve. “The goal you have in mind should be framed in positive terms, focusing on what you want to happen, rather than what you are trying to avoid,” Sheasby says.
Manage your state
For communication to be effective, the nonverbal signals we send out have to be congruent with our message. When we allow ourselves to get flustered or panicked, those signals start to tell a conflicting story. Managing your state of mind helps you remain calm, resourceful, and able to think clearly.
Remember that adversity is temporary
How you react to events conditions your resilience. Bear in mind that the challenge you face is temporary, specific to a particular incident, and is not a judgement on your self-worth. To illustrate the importance of how we frame things, Sheasby gives the example of a struggling business.
If the CEO says to staff, “You could all be out of work in six months’ time unless we turn this situation around,” he or she has focused the workers’ minds on the prospect of losing their jobs. This engenders reactions not conducive to the organisation’s survival, such as staff deserting what they perceive to be a sinking ship.
Alternatively, the leader might say, “Let’s be honest; we have got some real problems here. But just think how proud we are going to be in six months’ time when we have turned this around. And looking around me now, I know that this team has the skills to do that.”
By changing the structure of the language, Sheasby explains, this statement makes the problem temporary and implies that the employees have the strength to succeed, creating a different response to the same adversity.