How to show poise under pressure

by | Nov 7, 2016

Weathering office storms to show poise under pressure


Tessie is a 35 year old Project Manager in a small Design Agency. Resources are tight and deadlines even tighter. At times, especially on a Friday, as everyone rushes to meet client demands and set targets for the following week, there is a pressure cooker atmosphere. It's part of the creative buzz, but the downside is tempers become frayed.

Tessie believed she was being mobbed. This is serious accusation and not to be taken lightly. But in every situation I always check the exact circumstances. As I listened, it was clear that two of the issues were just standard vying for limited resources, with at worst an impolite exchange. The third case was where a man made a sexist comment about her bum, in a language he didn't think she understood. This was clearly sexist and out-of-order, but does not constitute mobbing.

As she recounted the situation which led to her taking a sick day and leaving the office early, I had to ask her what if anything had she said or done at the time to make it obvious that the behaviour was unacceptable to her? How had she made her boundaries clear? The answer was she had done nothing.  A quick retort in that language, probably would have been enough - or even a translation in English would have embarrassed the guy out of making any further comments about her derriere in front of her colleagues.

She was not able to show poise under pressure and didn't think on her feet.

She reported shortly after our discussion that a direct constructive communication conversation was all that had been needed.

Read: How to manage different communication styles


Véronique, a marketing manager was taken to task by a new Director for the way she had handled a certain issue. When addressed, she was so affronted and upset, she was unable to speak and ran out of the room and cried in the bathroom. She did nothing at the time.  Although, she apologised afterwards and although she thought she had resolved the situation, some weeks later her fixed term contract was not renewed.

She was not able to show poise under pressure and didn't think on her feet.

Leadership skills

Having poise under pressure is a vital leadership skill and a key part to creating what is known as executive presence. This is a combination of behaviours and characteristics which convey confidence and the implementation of small daily habits that convey gravitas. Taking sick days and crying in the bathroom tend not to do that.

When there is danger, or we are facing  challenging situations, our minds and bodies go into the ‘fight, freeze or flight’ mode. Those two incidents were stress situations to the people involved.

Check out our coaching and mentoring programs for women if you need help with executive presence! Contact us!

Read: Patience in Leadership ~ More Discipline than Virtue

6 ways to show poise under pressure

poise under pressure

Deep breaths. Keeping calm is essential.

  1. Know yourself and what you know. Self-belief, knowing you have the skills to deal with any situation inspires confidence. If  your values are clear, people may not always respect them, but it is easier for you to create boundaries. It also helps to de-personalize a situation to move into business neutral (see below).
  2. Share your message: when your message is strong and is shared in an assertive way, your limits are clear.
  3. Have authoritative body language: standing tall, with good eye contact sends another strong message. Breathe deeply to calm any nerves and to deal with the panic signals that let your body know you feel under threat. Concave body language puts you psychologically in a weaker position.
  4. Deal with the challenge: go directly into business neutral and don't personalise it (even if it is your bum). More breathing if necessary. That always works.
  5. Close graciously: to ensure good working relations, and to pave the way for the future.
  6. Communicate constructively: it may not be appropriate to deal with a situation immediately, but at a suitable time after, make an appointment for a meeting and raise the issue using blame free language. "When x happened, I experienced this as .."

How do you stay calm under pressure and weather the storms?

If you need help staying calm under pressure or having difficult conversations, contact 3Plus NOW 


Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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