Practicing Calmness: Maintaining Control in Difficult Situations

Unfortunately, when it comes to facing stressful situations, Master Yoda, you are not.  Developing the type of Zen-like calm that will enable you to exit trying circumstances gracefully isn’t easy to do, but it’s vital.  If you’re prone to outbursts of anger or tears whenever you feel threatened, learning how to remain calm will ensure that you’re taken seriously in both your professional and personal lives.

So if you’re sick of being dismissed by others or feeling that you’ve let your anger get the best of you, consider the following 5-step process for managing your emotions in stressful situations:

Step #1 – Acknowledge when you’re feeling stressed

As usual, the first step to resolving a problem is to admit that you have one in the first place.  After all, you can’t learn how to maintain control in difficult situations if you aren’t able to identify when your reactions are getting out of hand.

Generally, there are a few key symptoms we can use to assess when stress is occurring.  Our pulses increase, our faces flush, our hands begin to shake and we feel a rush of emotion – whether anger, teariness or some other strong feeling.

The key to managing difficult situations is to detect these symptoms at their onset, before you become so overwhelmed that a graceful exit is no longer possible.

Step #2 – Excuse yourself from the situation

Now that you know which symptoms indicate that you’re becoming stressed, practice excusing yourself from difficult situations as soon as you notice them.  If you delay and try to force yourself to regain control, you’ll typically only compound your emotional response – making you even less likely to come out of the scenario in a calm, controlled way.

To do this, use the following template:

“I’m sorry.  I’m feeling [stressed, upset, angry, etc] because of [this situation].  Could we regroup in [a certain period of time] once I’ve had a chance to think more clearly?”

Sure, there are some situations that you won’t be able to get out of, but you’ll likely find that these are few and far between.  Most people will respect your ability to advocate for your own needs and will give you the space necessary to gain control of your emotions privately.

Step #3 – Analyze your frustrations

Once you’re alone, take a few moments to think about why you experienced the reaction you did, putting a particular focus on your personal emotions and rationale.  For example, complaining to yourself that, “My boss is such a jerk,” doesn’t give you much to go off of, since you can’t do much to change your boss’s personality.

However, what you can do is to identify which of the elements of your earlier encounter are making you upset.  As an example, while your boss might truly be a jerk, you might also be able to identify that what’s really got you frustrated is the way he gives your co-worker better assignments than you ever seem to receive.  Knowing exactly what’s got you upset will go a long way towards helping you to brainstorm potential solutions and eventually change your mood.

Step #4 – Identify potential solutions

Following with the example above, if you’ve identified that you’re upset over perceived favoritism, it’s now on you to explain to your boss that this is how you see the situation.  And quite frankly, that conversation is going to go over much better if you can pair your observations with some practical ideas for solutions.

In this case, you could be missing out on prime opportunities because your boss thinks you’re too busy to handle them.  As a solution, you could offer more frequent check-ins or ways that other priorities could be handled more efficiently in order to free up your time for higher profile projects.

Of course, not every difficult situation has a solution.  Your boss might just not like you, and if that’s the case, no amount of calmness is going to resolve the scenario you’re facing (though you might also take that as a hint that it’s time to find a new job…).  But really, nine times out of ten, excessive displays of emotion can be avoided by taking the time to calmly think through what’s really bothering you and what can be done to improve your situation.

Step #5 – Carry out necessary follow-up professionally

Finally, if you promised anyone involved in the difficult situation you faced initially that you’d follow up with them at any point, now’s the time to do so.  Don’t let your discomfort prevent you from sticking to your word, as that’ll do much more damage to your reputation in the long run.

With consistent practice, you may find that you don’t even need to excuse yourself and follow up with the people in your life at a later time.  As you practice keeping your cool when faced with difficult situations, you’ll find that you’re able to identify your core emotions and deal with them in a calm, rational way in the moment, preventing your feelings from ever getting out of control in the first place.

3 thoughts on “Practicing Calmness: Maintaining Control in Difficult Situations

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