When we were first launching our business, I was scheduled to lead an important stakeholder call. It was something I spent hours preparing for because so much hinged on it. Spoiler alert: It was a disaster.
The conference call software we were using limited us to 26 people—something I unfortunately overlooked. It wasn’t until after the meeting began and I started getting messages from people saying they couldn’t log into the call that I realized there was an issue.
The software had a webinar feature that allowed us to include more people, but I had to scramble to get everyone that information. I had to email the new dial-in codes while simultaneously explaining to those on the phone what they needed to do.
By the time everyone was on the same call, we were running 20 minutes late and I was frazzled. Secretly, I just wanted to reschedule so I could recover from a mistake of such magnitude. But I felt an obligation to those who were attending—not to mention, an obligation to my company and what it represented.
I cared too much for this call to fail.
I rechanneled my stress and carried on with the call. It wasn’t about ignoring what happened, but rather pushing forward confidently in spite of what happened.
Once it was all over, I received several emails from people applauding how well I’d handled the situation. Although I appreciated the messages, they surprised me. I was also surprised to learn what I did that day turned out to be a proven course of action.
In fact, 2016 research from Cornell University found that when you’re in a stressful situation, reframing your distress as passion makes you seem more competent. In other words, shift your emotions from negative to positive.
The question, though, is how?
Here are some do’s and don’ts to survive a stressful situation.
1. Don’t hold your emotions in.
It’s tempting to keep a stiff upper lip in a difficult situation. But this can affect how people view you as a leader. Research by my company, Skyline Group International, Inc., found that employees believe showing an appropriate amount of emotion is 40 percent more effective than being stoic or unemotional.
Logically, this makes sense. When something unexpected or stressful occurs, others around you will notice. For you to pretend nothing has happened seems ingenuine. When a situation warrants a reaction, react.
What’s important is how you rechannel your emotions. Just as distress can become passion, nervousness can become excitement, and frustration can be expressed as drive and determination.
2. Do stand tall.
There’s a reason why people say to keep your head held high. Research published in Health Psychology found that having good posture when faced with stress can help you maintain your self-esteem and increase your positive mood. Slouching causes you to feel doubt and fear.
Standing tall sends your mind a message that you are confident and capable, which in turn sends a similar message to your employees. It also shows those around you that you’re not going to let stressful situations get the best of you.
3. Don’t over-apologize
Nothing projects self-doubt like saying “I’m sorry” repeatedly. It simultaneously sends a message that you lack control of the situation and accept blame for what happened. This makes you seem incompetent as a leader.
Often in stressful situations, mistakes aren’t your fault. Technology fails. Accidents happen. But instead of apologizing, convey you are still composed and in control. Instead of offering sorry after sorry, say something like, “We’ve hit a road bump, but I’ll have the solution in a minute.”
Letting everyone know you’re fixing the issue shows them you’re still in charge. You’re not unraveling, but calmly moving forward.
4. Do acknowledge the mistake.
Unfortunately, sometimes the stress is caused by your actions. Although over-apologizing is still not a smart option, neither is ignoring your error. In situations like these, hold yourself accountable. Admit your mistake, but also have a way to move past it.
Looking back at my personal example, this was what allowed me to be successful. There was no denying I’d dropped the ball by forgetting the participant limit. I needed to acknowledge that fact. But then I was ready with a way for us to continue.
Taking responsibility for your mistakes also provides another benefit for leaders: trust. Facing how you’ve faltered, instead of passing the buck, shows your employees they can always be confident in your honesty.