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The Business Imperative for Staying Calm During Stressful Times

Wayne Strom, PhD
Wayne Strom, PhD

Today’s harsh economic realities continue to impact everyone. Hundreds of thousands have been losing their jobs each month. In California, even firemen and policemen are being laid off (California firemen are being laid off even as we approach fire season!). It does not matter if you work for a private enterprise or a tax-supported agency.

Everyone is somewhat at risk. Everything is somewhat on the line.

An attorney friend once told me, ‘When you have a fire, you get to choose: you can pour on water, or you can pour on gasoline.’ This is absolutely true in our business relationships.

When people feel at risk, they become anxious and can easily rise to defensiveness. Negotiations, even over the smallest issues, can become brittle.

But to pour on gasoline does not mean that one is operating from a position of strength and confidence! It does not signal the other person that you are competent to deal with what is happening. If I anxiously enter a business conversation, or if I am even just a little apprehensive (a form of defensiveness), or perhaps a little pushy, I may be setting the stage for a defensive push-back or confrontation.

We all give off and receive very subtle emotional signals.

Sometimes, we receive them below the level of conscious awareness. The impact of such subliminal perception is real and we can temporarily lose control of our reactions. If we receive subtle indications that another person is anxious or is being defensive, our brains interpret that something is not right. The result is that we become more guarded and less open to calm and direct communication. The suspicious aspects of our minds, which we usually hold in abeyance, silently and swiftly arise. And if that happens, gasoline has been added to the fire!

On the other hand, if I have sufficiently prepared myself—not just the paperwork, but in all aspects of psycho-physiology—the result can be very different. If I walk into a meeting in a calm and quietly confident manner, I may be lowering the other person’s need for self-protection. I may actually give him temporary relief of his own anxiety and make him more open to doing business with me. Just because I am not reacting out of my own anxiety and defensiveness! This is how the trust and rapport needed for business is established.

It is usually true that when we react out of defensiveness or anxiety, we are operating out of weakness, not strength. Men and women who face difficult issues from a position of strength do not have to raise their voices or react defensively.

Truly strong business professionals remain calm—and their calm confidence and strength is what helps win over those on the other side of the negotiating table.

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Use Emotional Intelligence to Cope in Tough Times by Mark Mallinger, PhD, and Jeff Banks, PhD

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Author of the article
Wayne Strom, PhD, Professor of Behavioral Science
Wayne Strom, PhD, Professor of Behavioral Science
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