Under Pressure: How You Communicate May Hurt Your Team

How well do you handle stressful situations? More specifically, how well do you communicate when under stress? According to a survey from leadership training company VitalSmarts, if you are incapable of keeping your cool or you clam up,  you’re hurting your team.

According to the data, managers who either clam up or blow up have teams with low morale. This, in turn, makes the teams more likely to miss deadlines and not adhere to budgets or quality standards and ultimately drive away customers.

The survey of 1,334 people revealed that one in three managers is incapable of handling high-stakes/high-pressure situations. When under stress:

  • 53 percent of managers are close-minded and controlling rather than open and curious;
  • 45 percent are emotional and upset rather than calm and in control;
  • 45 percent ignore and reject rather than listen or understand;
  • 37 percent are avoidant rather than direct; and
  • 30 percent are more devious and deceitful rather than transparent.

“No one works in isolation. When under pressure, our actions have enormous power to tip the scales for good or bad,” said David Maxfield, vice president of research at VitalSmarts. “When we react poorly, we don’t just hurt others’ feelings or egos, we hurt their results–we impact their ability to perform.”

Based on VitalSmarts research, the negative impact of a hot-headed leader is pervasive. More than half of all the survey respondents reported that they’re more likely to consider leaving an organization and/or will shut down and stop participating with the team that’s led by an unpredictable leader (62 percent and 56 percent, respectively).

“Leaders everywhere–not just in business, but also political, community, and societal leaders–must understand the scope of their influence,” said Joseph Grenny a business social scientist and author of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High. “Those watching our leaders will not only mirror their bad communication habits, but act in ways that sabotage results.”

Maxfield and Grenny offer some suggestions for leaders who need to learn how to remain calm in high-stress situations. One important tip is to start with facts. While this sounds simple, it’s easier said than done. Maxfield and Grenny write:

“When the stakes are high, our brains often serve us poorly. To maximize cognitive efficiency, we tend to store feelings and conclusions, but not the facts that created them. Before reacting to stress, gather facts. Think through the basic information that helped you think or feel as you do — and use that information to realign your own feelings and help others understand the intensity of your reaction.”

And if all else fails, take a breath, step away and listen to this:

Danielle Westermann Kinghttp://
Danielle Westermann King is a former staff writer for HRE.