View Original / Fast Company

DeM Banter:  Keep Calm and Carry On… note to self…

Before people bond with you, they will want to know you are dependable and predictable; calmness contributes to those perceptions, and agitation and stress send the opposite message. Staying calm is also critically important in providing opportunities for risk taking. Your calmness helps the other person stay calm in the face of challenge. If you bring further emotion and fear to a situation that is already full of emotion and fear, you only make things worse. Imagine how the rock climber would feel if the person holding the belay expressed nervousness or distraction: she’d be very unlikely to want to jump to that next handhold.

Clearly, we cannot completely separate the emotional and rational aspects of ourselves. Basically, the human brain is designed to serve us as social creatures. The way we see and how we feel about ourselves and the world around us are inextricably linked to the views and emotions of others. Given the fact that many people spend more of their waking time with colleagues than they do with their families, it is important that leaders understand how they can positively or negatively influence the mindsets, emotions and moods of those around them.

Perhaps one of the best known recent stories about a leader positively influencing the emotions of others involves an event that took place just after a takeoff from New York’s LaGuardia Airport:

On January 15, 2009, as Flight 1549, carrying 150 passengers, started to lose height following the failure of both engines, 57-year-old pilot Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III prepared to land the plane on the Hudson River. Passenger Mark Hood of Charlotte, North Carolina described that moment and what Sullenberger said as follows: “I can tell you verbatim: ‘Brace for impact.’ He said it in a calm, cool, controlled voice. It was a testament to his leadership. Had he let any tension leak into his voice, it would have been magnified in the passengers.”

Sully has since explained that he simply did what the training manual had taught him to do in such a situation. With his training as a leader, he even remained calm enough to call his wife shortly after the emergency landing and say “You may see something about a plane on the news, but don’t get excited. It wasn’t that significant.”

Others pick up on your state of mind, just as the passengers picked up on Captain Sully’s state. What is a “state?” According to Eric Berne, the founder of Transactional Analysis, a state is “a coherent set of feelings, thinking and behavior.” We have broadened that concept to include the idea that state reflects how we are at any one moment in time–our physiology, attitude, emotions, mood, behavior and beliefs as they all come together.

Your state determines the result you achieve. States can be positive or negative. Moods and emotions can affect our state. Paul Ekman defines a mood as an ongoing emotion.

Once you are aware of an emotion, you can trace its cause and change it. Left unchanged, an extended period of emotion becomes your “mood.” A very extended mood can also develop into a character trait. Some people remain trapped in a chronically negative mood which then affects their state and subsequently influences others.

The ability to manage your own state is fundamental to managing yourself and to influencing the state of another person. Given the high probability of disappointment, failed expectations and loss in the world, you are vulnerable to being pushed into a negative state unless you have learned to self-manage.

3 Tips For Developing Calm

1. Change your mood: While it is tough to change your state when you are in a bad mood, it is possible. Raise your self-awareness and acknowledge that you are “in a mood. ” That process, by itself, helps you be more mindful of your state and how it is impacting you and others.

2. Watch what you say and how you say it: Tone and manner of communication matter to others. Clearly, under stress even the best leaders will be feeling the pressure. At these times, still aim to present yourself in a calm and predictable manner, rather than reacting emotionally. By remaining outwardly calm, you will be able to instill confidence in those around you and alleviate a greater sense of panic. A good trick is to take a deep breath before you say anything. Practice checking yourself when you are challenged or verbally attacked by someone else. In those situations, you’re likely to attack back instinctively. In so doing, you are letting yourself become a hostage to the situation. Instead, take a deep breath and ask a question instead of making any kind of statement.

3. Practice a mindfulness exercise: Learn to stay calm by practicing a simple mindfulness exercise. Make yourself comfortable by sitting in a chair, feet flat on the ground, arms in your lap. Take about 20 seconds to draw four deep breaths. Focus on your toes first and imagine the muscles relaxing. Then slowly work through your feet, up to your calf muscles, your thigh muscles, your buttocks–each time relaxing the muscles.

Then move to the tips of your fingers, through your wrists, your forearms, up to your shoulders–each time concentrating on relaxing your muscles. Then move to your shoulders, your neck muscles and your face muscles. This whole process only takes a few minutes and yet, when practiced daily, can make a significant difference in the levels of stress you experience.

Excerpted with permission of the publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc. from Care to Dare: Unleashing Astonishing Potential Through Secure Base Leadership by George Kohlrieser, Susan Goldsworthy, and Duncan Coombe. Copyright (c) 2012.

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