Leveraging Stress as Your Performance Factor!

posted by Dilip on March 28, 2019

“Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.” – Henry Van Dyke

Prospects and clients call me to seek help in times of difficulties: Job interviews, important presentations, Annual Performance Review (APR), having difficult discussion even with a team member, and on and on. In most such situations they are concerned that they may perform inadequately and compromise their ability to have the edge they need to come across as confident, convincing, and compelling. Although each situation is different and preparing for each encounter requires preparation, mental readiness, and an appropriate script, it also requires for one to be at ease, relaxed, and ready to improvise on the spot to ace the situation. This requires presence of mind and keeping your composure to be your authentic self, so that you can not only do your best, but deliver what is required in each demanding situation.

So, how do you achieve this state of readiness, excitement, calmness, self-confidence and alertness all at once.

Most of us can marshal this ability to achieve such a state of our being to benefit us in times of our needs. Often, most get so rattled by what is about to confront them that they resign themselves to the inevitable and vitiate their own chances of success. Once they lose their cool, their fear overpowers them greatly attenuating their own mind power, which is central to delivering a highly differentiated performance. In your calm, confident, and self-assured state you can count on answers to come to you, which you did not know that you had prepared.

But, how does one prepare so that they can attain this state? How can you leverage your stress as a Performance Enhancer in critical times of your need?  

Here are some proven techniques:

  1. Breaking the cycle of defeats: In my coaching practice one of the most common complaints clients cite is how their pattern of past defeats in similar situations haunts them to accept their inevitable doom, overpowering their will to claim and conquer what is otherwise theirs to have—be that a job offer from an interview, a discussion about their next promotion, or even asking for a well-deserved pay increase and getting it.

    In overcoming such feeling of doom the best approach is to first identify the pattern that leads to this inevitability. There may be some words that you use in response to a question asked, or you talk yourself into narrating something that naturally leads the other person to dig deeper into something that puts you on a path of defeat as soon as you open your mouth. Once you identify this pattern of behavior that traps you into a self-defeating narrative you must learn how to shift that into a track that provides a way to put you on a winning path.

    As an object lesson, one of my clients felt trapped in job interviews when the interviewer asked her why she changed so many jobs in such a short time (three jobs in three years). The reality was that each company that hired her either got acquired within a year of joining, went out of business, or had a lay-off due to market conditions. However, in each job she had demonstrated exceptional accomplishments despite her short stints.

    Once we recognized that pattern of how she was perceived as a job hopper during interviews, we decided to preempt that question and to emphasize how rich her experience was working at three different companies in different areas of technology and providing exceptional accomplishments to boot in a short time. With this narrative her short hops now became a boon to her candidacy. Preemptively bringing this up showed that she had nothing to hide and the interviewer was impressed by her presence of mind.
  2. Exploring the cause of anxiety: It is normal to be anxious in situations that put you to test: Interviews, case studies, brain-teasers, impromptu presentations, crucial conversations about your future in your current role, etc. So, before you start getting anxious about facing the reality dig deeper into its cause: If you are not ready for the job interview you must spend time preparing in key areas where you would be tested for your abilities.

    So, preparing for such encounters would involve researching, studying, preparing, and even doing some focused mock interview sessions. It is impossible to anticipate each question that may be asked during such an interview, but if you are generally aware of what will be important to the interviewer you should be able to deal with even tough questions with some finesse.
  3. Transforming Tension into Intention: Regardless of your readiness it is normal to feel some tension before going into the session (interview, critical performance discussion, promotion, etc.). Once again if you are well-prepared using #2 above, you should be able to sublimate your tension into an intention. This intention in the case of a job interview would be to secure an offer. Going into a critical meeting with the right preparation and intention will help you overcome the tension you feel, which can often undermine your success.
  4.  Translating Anxiety into Excitement: It is also common to feel anxious about your performance in critical situations such as a job interview. The problem is when you go into such situations with anxiety it shows in your body language and in your voice and undermines your ability to deliver a successful outcome (for yourself).

    Why would want to compromise your own success by carrying your anxiety into a situation, which can help you achieve what you desire? Translating your anxiety into excitement can help you change how your body is reacting to the “threat” you feel without coming across to the other person as someone in the “flight or fight mode” as they navigate through the interview process. When we are anxious it is common to show our inner fears, which manifest as a rush of adrenalin. When we are under the power of this potent chemical all our logical faculties shut down and the body jumps into this primordial, default “flight of fight” mode.
  5. Scripting your response and Practicing: There is no substitute for writing down responses to critical questions (for interviews and other encounters) and practicing them with someone knowledgeable. Here an interview coach can further help you refine you come across with your body language, tone, and other nuances to fine-tune your responses.

Before going into a situation that can decide the fate of your future it is best to deal with the forces that cause you to be stressful. Although it is beneficial to carry the right level of stress—which makes you alert and gives you the edge you need—excessive and sustained stress can undermine your performance and vitiate your efforts to win.

Good luck!