Whether you’re giving a presentation, attending a job interview, dealing with an upset person, or simply conversing at work or in your personal life, ensuring you get your message across – and, equally important, hearing what the other person is saying – can be difficult.
But there are several things you can do to prepare yourself and deal with pressure in a positive, effective manner (no, using every four-letter word in your vocabulary, screaming, tearing your hair and running out the door are not effective ways to deal with pressure, despite your inclination to do so).
These tips may help you find the stability you need to communicate effectively in spite of the pressure:
- Put on a metaphorical suit of armour. When I was in law enforcement, putting the uniform on helped me embrace a more confident exterior than the one I had in civilian clothes. It also reminded me to stay patient and more compassionate than I might have been otherwise. A friend overcame her shyness by putting on a metaphorical reporter’s hat. When she embraced that role, she found herself behaving in a more confident manner, even if her inner voice was telling her to hide under her desk.
- Prepare and be concise. Don’t use so many words that it interferes with understanding. Make sure you have the facts; be ready to answer questions and substantiate what you are saying. Remember that it’s perfectly all right to admit that you don’t know something. (If you don’t want to actually say, “I don’t know,” you can say something like, “I don’t have that information at hand, but I can find out for you.”)
- Maintain control over your emotions. Getting angry or hostile won’t help your reputation. And interrupting another person is rude. If someone is ranting and raving, just keep quiet until they run down, even when it feels like they’re laying all the blame on you.
- Pause to gather your thoughts and refocus before responding. If someone is getting in your face, you may feel the urge to push back (actually, your first impulse probably will be to push back). Refrain from doing so, since this will only make the situation more intense.
- Laughter truly is the best medicine. A well-timed (and appropriate) humorous remark can go a long way toward defusing a tense situation. Just remember that not everyone will share your sense of humour, so try to keep away from the dry, wry, twisted comments that may really offend some people – even if you happen to think they’re hilarious. Know your audience!
- Stay curious and avoid feeling the need to prove how right you are. We’ve all run into those people who are so arrogant that we just want to shove a pie in their face. If you approach people with the attitude that you’re the only one who knows anything and they’re uneducated buffoons, you won’t get very far in terms of your communication.
- Listen more than you speak. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: listening is a great way of communicating under pressure. As Jeff Daly, the chief designer of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, once said: “Two monologues do not make a dialogue.”
Ultimately, it never hurts to remember the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That’s particularly apt when you feel under pressure to communicate effectively.
Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications.