The ability to perform well under pressure is crucial to career success—so crucial that General Motors, Lucent Technologies, and other corporations use the test I developed to predict how potential hires will do under challenging circumstances.
Follow these steps to stop stress from sabotaging your life and career.
Take a Stress Test
Stress is a constant today. Rapid technological change and globalization are making jobs increasingly complex. We can’t escape workplace stress, but we can identify episodes when it has gotten the better of us. Stress overload often leads to one of these mistakes.
The Attentional and Interpersonal Style (TAIS) inventory test comprises 144 questions and is widely used to enhance performance in business, sports and military settings. It is an invaluable tool for selection and screening in high-stress environments. Results should be analyzed by a TAIS-certified consultant.
Information overload paralyzes you and your team. When trying to balance divergent views, you give directions that are too confusing or complex to be carried out.
Most susceptible: Managers and executives. They are trained to sift through the information carefully before acting. Under pressure, endless demands for information can become a substitute for taking action.
You become less flexible as a project goes on. You cling to your initial plan long after its flaws have been discovered. You fail to consider alternatives.
Most susceptible: Engineers and financiers. When pressured, their attention to detail can turn into rigidity.
Instead of planning ahead, you count on being able to pick up enough cues to wing it through meetings and negotiations. You stop championing your own ideas and start echoing those of others.
Most susceptible: Sales and marketing professionals. They are trained to compromise and be agreeable. Under pressure, the need to give all choices a fair hearing deteriorates into an inability to make any firm decisions.
Review your work history to find instances where pressure caused you to make serious mistakes. Most likely culprits:
Deadlines. You are under enormous pressure to make a decision now. You’re afraid that if you relax even for a moment, a big deal or sale will be lost.
High-impact decisions. Much is riding on the outcome. If you mess up, you fear the impact could be financially or professionally devastating.
Loss of operating control. You have responsibility for a project’s success but not the necessary decision-making authority.
Plan For Pressure
Once you identify your pressure triggers, you can better prepare for the next time you are thrown into a stressful situation.
Danger: Stress is cumulative. The longer a meeting or a negotiation, the higher the risk of stress-overload mistakes.
When the pressure gets intense, request a time-out. Take a 10-minute “fresh air” break, or make an excuse to escape to your office to cool off.
Stay away until the “do-it-immediately” panic has passed—and you again are in control of your emotions.
How to Use The Time-Out:
If you are overanalytical: Use the timeout to refocus on the critical issues of the project or negotiation. Remember to address points that the other side has made.
If you’re inflexible: Force yourself to listen to the rest of your team to see if there are alternative approaches—beyond the plan you are pushing—for wrapping things up.
If you’re overreactive: You’ve been bombarded by people’s suggestions. Review your own goals.
By Robert Nideffer, Ph.D., chief executive officer of Enhanced Performance Systems, a consulting company specializing in improving performance under pressure.