Calm, Discernment, and Effectiveness Under Pressure Premium

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Why do some people withstand pressure better than others? Because they have acquired the skills that allow them to limit its negative effects. Working on yourself and practicing make it possible to confront even the worst squalls with greater serenity.

Why do some people deal with pressure better than others?
According to Clutch author Paul Sullivan, this has nothing to do with any sort of genetic predisposition but rather with a learned ability to contain and limit the negative impact of stress. You have to practice keeping your calm in neutral circumstances to effectively cope when the road gets rocky.

Illustration : Near the end of the 2008 crisis, since in March 2009, the J.P. Morgan Chase’s market capitalization decreased by 60%, just like most of its competitors. But the bank was listed at more than $160 billion (ie 161 in October 2007), making it the largest U.S. bank! Then how do you explain such a recovery from the crisis? Through the ability of Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, to make the right decisions— notably several strategic acquisitions—in a high-anxiety environment.

In addition to preparation, successfully dealing with pressure requires experience.
How do you react to pressure? For former RAID (elite unit of the French police force) negotiator Laurent Combalbert , there’s no easy answer, because the perception of and réaction to stress varies from one person to the other. Knowing how to deal with pressure—from daily tension to an apocalyptic crisis— mainly requires great self-understanding and a strong ability to take a step back. Preparation and experience thus play a decisive role.

Laurent Combalbert explains that individuals and teams can learn to deal with pressure in complex circumstances by following three steps.
• Identify how you generally react to pressure;
• practice appropriate reactions beforehand;
• and analyze real behavior after the fact.

To adopt an appropriate response to a stressful situation, you must first know yourself well.

Laurent Combalbert points out that 1- knowing your réaction to pressure, 2- training before and after a crisis, and 3- knowing how to debrief, for yourself and your team, are the ingredients of your strength facing pressure in complex environments.

The more chaotic and risky the situation, the cooler James Bond.
While stress naturally stimulates quick thinking and decision-making, it can be dangerous if a situation gets out of hand. There is no miracle solution here either. Keeping calm and exercising good judgment are skills requiring considerable effort, practice, and critical analysis.
Warning ! Making decisions under pressure can lead to mistakes due to agitation and a lack of discernment. In the end, these errors increase pressure! This downward spiral is not inevitable and avoiding or surviving it is nothing magical: well-oiled processes and feedback are the best safeguards.


Read our dossier
Calm, Discernment, and Effectiveness Under Pressure

Business Digest no. 215, April 2011.

Based on Clutch by Paul Sullivan (Portfolio, September 2010), Shine by Edward Hallowell (Harvard Business Review Press, January 2011) the interview with Laurent Combalbert, former negotiator for RAID and founder of Ulysceo andon articles from McKinsey Quarterly and Harvard Business Review.