6 acts that build executive presence in a difficult moment

If you have ever been in an escalating conversation that is confrontational you know how hard it is to maintain composure when your heart starts racing and every nerve ending in your body is screaming “Danger!” With practice you can be the master of your own behavior in these high stakes moments, calm yourself and be the respected colleague people notice has grace under fire.

When you’re first aware that a situation is getting combative that is the sign to switch tracks before you’re on the runaway train of freeze-fight-or-flight. This is when your reaction becomes physiological – your voice quivers, your palms get sweaty, and your heart rate elevates. Most people fear that this lack of physical control will show and undermine their effectiveness.


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Here are six tips to help build your executive presence in the moment:

 1. Gently say to the person, “This is upsetting me. I need to think about what you’re saying.”

If you can, remove yourself from the situation and tell her you will get back to her at a certain time. This allows time for the situation to de-escalate and for you to compose yourself. If it is not possible to leave the room, slow down the pace of the conversation with a long pause and a deep breath.

 2. If possible, give yourself 5 minutes to go to the restroom, your office, or a quiet space without distractions.

Be curious about what scares you. Name what you are afraid of. Determine if your fears are an assumption or true. What percentage chance does your worst fear have of happening? Generally, that will be a low number. Your mind is just trying to prepare you for the worst. 

3. Extend yourself compassion.

“May I be gentle with myself in this moment. I’ve got this.” Extend compassion to the other person. “He is doing the best he can. May I understand what he fears.”

 4. Make someone laugh.

 5. Take a walk.

Walk the dog.

 6. Go to a place you like – outside, a store, a friend’s office, a coffee shop.

 When you mindfully name that you notice the discomfort of a situation you disarm its power. This creates space to deal with the negative feelings we internalize and personalize. This also allows time for you to respond thoughtfully before you armor up and react against it, doing something you later regret.

Mary Lee Gannon, ACC, CAE is an executive coach and corporate CEO who helps busy leaders get off the treadmill to nowhere to be more effective, earn more, be more calm and enjoy connected relationships with the people who matter while it still matters. Watch her FREE Master Class training on Three Things to Transform Your Life and Career Right Now at www.MaryLeeGannon.com


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