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The Executive Coaching Corner:  Executive Presence Series

September 9, 2014  Blog Series 4 of 9:  Executive Presence:  Managing Stress--Cognitive Change Techniques

In the last issue talked about amygdala hijack and why it happens.  I also provided you with a simple breathing technique to help you manage this phenomenon.  Next, we’ll discuss some other highly effective methods to help stay cool under pressure and  maintain executive presence.  

In Your Brain at Work (2009), David Rock discusses cognitive change as another technique used to calm your amygdala. Cognitive change involves reframing your thinking about a situation. This results in altering your outlook. One of my favorite quotes about cognitive change comes from Wayne Dyer who said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

One cognitive change technique is to label the emotion you’re feeling. Let’s say you walk in a room, and you notice that your body is tensing or that you’re clenching you teeth. You feel it, stop for a moment, and say, “Hmmm, I’m feeling angry.” Just labeling alone can diffuse the situation if you catch it early enough. However, you must be careful to say as few words as possible to yourself; otherwise you’ll further fuel your anxiety. You just want to observe and let the feeling pass. Labeling helps to release the energy and gives you the time to become a detached observer.

Another method is to reinterpret the event. Here you decide the threat no longer exists. Imagine for a moment that you’re sitting in the aisle seat of a plane, deeply involved in preparing for an upcoming meeting, so your head is down and you’re absorbed in your work. Someone tries to get in to the window seat, interrupts you with an “excuse me,” and steps all over your feet. At first you’re irritated because you were interrupted, and now you’re even more irritated because the person stepped on your feet. You think, “What a jerk,” and then you look up and see this person has a white folding cane and dark glasses. He’s obviously blind. In an instant, your state of mind changes from feeling anger and irritation to compassion. That’s how quickly you can settle your amygdala.

The next technique is normalizing. Let’s say you’re invited to attend a networking event where you don’t know anyone and you’re feeling anxious about it. You tell yourself that it’s normal to feel that way, and everyone else who’s new probably feels the same way. I used this approach with a client who was a newbie to professional networking. I helped her to recognize that other people also feel slightly uncomfortable, which gave her relief to know she wasn’t the only one.

I have two more to discuss, but I will save them for next time to keep your reading to under 3 minutes. Stay tuned.

 Stay tuned:  In the next insertion we'll discuss additional ways to manage your stress.

For additional one to two-minute sessions on other topics,  go to the Executive Coaching Corner Archive.