We’ve all been there. We get some concerning news about a project, an important system or tool, an account, a colleague, a relationship… and our minds start racing to figure out what we’ll do in the event of the absolute worst-case outcome.
It’s a stressful time, all bets are off, and in that fight-or-flight moment we also let down our guard in terms of how we talk to and treat one another—because nothing is larger than the challenge at hand and there’s no time for formality. Of course, this can happen in all areas of our lives, but it happens regularly in the work context and is often dismissed and accepted as par for the course.
Then inevitably, every single time—even if just due to the unstoppable passage of time—we get through it. Sure, the cookie can crumble a number of ways, but more often than not where we end up is not at the worst-case outcome, especially in a business context (where crisis often breeds great opportunity if you flip the angle).
Just as often, in fact, these things end up being false alarms—and after the smoke has cleared and we realize it wasn’t as big a deal as we made it out to be, we’re left sheepishly smiling at each other with the echoes of our unhinged behaviors still reverberating around us.
I’ve been there plenty of times in the past and have had plenty of excuses to justify my agitation, impatience, etc.—but it takes a long time to shake that sinking feeling of having acted emotionally and impulsively.
Our Mantra Under Pressure
Recognizing this pattern has led to a mantra of sorts for our team; a rallying cry as we’re about to dig into a new challenge:
“Who we are in times of great stress is who we are.”
That is to say that although we know that as humans we’re all a balance of yin and yang, how we act in those times of stress 1) at minimum, won’t be forgotten by those around us when we’ve moved on to something else, and 2) may over time—warranted or not—make up the lion’s share of how we’re perceived and remembered. This, of course, has significant ramifications, both short-term and long-term, for individuals, careers, and companies.
Pay attention the next time you’re watching a person being publicly recognized or honored. With few exceptions, details that tend to be a big part of the story include grace under pressure and the ability to calmly assess a situation and respond.
It’s not easy, but the next time you’re faced with a stressful situation (and it’s comin’ for you), switch over to some box breathing (this works wonders for parenting, too) and say it again to those in the trenches with you: “who we are in times of great stress is who we are.”
Go get ’em, tiger.