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N. Elizabeth Fried, Ph.D.

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The Executive Coaching Corner:  Executive Presence Series

October 7, 2014  Blog Series 5 of 9:  Executive Presence:  Managing Stress--Cognitive Change Techniques (cont'd.)

The last two issues discussed methods for managing stress, so that stress doesn’t derail your progress for establishing executive presence.  I covered simple breathing techniques as well as three forms of cognitive change that involve reframing your thinking: labeling, normalizing, and reinterpreting. In this issue, I have two more to help you out.  I’ve provided a personal story for each to illustrate my points. Take three minutes to learn and enjoy.

Reordering information. This involves putting a positive spin on what has occurred—essentially looking for the silver lining. When you take this approach, it helps alleviate the frustration or stress you might be feeling. An example of how I applied this occurred several years ago when I was approached by a company to bid on a proposal which required me to put together a team of coaches. I had always been a sole practitioner, so I didn’t really have a team. The potential client, a large international shipping company, had reviewed my website and liked my work. They told me that if I could put together a team, I’d be on a short list of three companies.

Seizing the opportunity, I picked up the phone and started the process. It required having many conversations with dozens of coaches, vetting them, and coordinating and formatting bios to present in a professional package. When I was done, I had a team of 18 coaches to offer. Then I put together and delivered a special sales presentation on our services. All of this took about 60 hours of my time. Regrettably, I came in second. Of course I notified all of my colleagues of the results, and they were all disappointed, expressing how badly they felt for me because they knew how much work I had put into this. It was common for them to say, “You must feel terrible!” “What a waste of time!” “You put in all that effort for no money!” My response was, “Are you kidding me? I feel great! I now have a team of coaches that I can market nationally. I never would have even considered putting a team together without a potential client in hand. This opportunity put the fire under me to get things going, and now I have an additional service to offer the business community. Six months later I got a two-year contract with the San Diego Airport involving a half dozen of my coaches. If I had allowed myself to see this as an exercise in futility, I could have been paralyzed for days.

Repositioning.  Probably one of the most challenging forms of reframing is repositioning, because it takes so much brain energy, particularly in the heat of the moment, but the payoff is well worth the effort. Years ago when I was a newly promoted compensation manager, I attended a meeting as the only women among a group of very traditional male sales managers. One of the participants started verbally attacking me at dinner for no reason, questioning why I was selected as a manager. I was trying to be polite, but he just wouldn’t let up.

Earlier that evening he shared that he had a daughter who recently graduated college, so I used this information as leverage to help him calm down. Here’s how: Despite the fact that I was enduring a barrage of attacks, I tried to put myself in his shoes to understand why he was behaving so badly. To his amygdala, I was perceived as a foe, since he had never experienced a woman in a professional managerial role—particularly one who had influence over recommending his salary and bonus levels. On a primitive level it was akin to defending his village from invaders. Upon realizing his struggle, I quickly came up with a way to diffuse the situation by having him walk a moment in my shoes and realize I wasn’t someone to fear. So I said very quietly, “I don’t think you daughter would be very happy with you if she saw you right now.” 

He was taken aback and said, “What does my daughter have to do with this?” 

I responded, “Imagine for a moment your daughter is sitting here right now and receiving this level of abuse.” 

He was totally silenced by this. Several things happened. I connected with him emotionally through someone with whom he was familiar—his daughter. This allowed him to recognize I was a person, just like his daughter and someone he would never intentionally hurt. Thus, I was no longer perceived as a threat. It gave him real pause for thought, and he immediately calmed down and profusely apologized. Later, when we talked about this, he indicated that he had no idea why he was acting the way he did.

Puzzled, he said, “I wasn’t even drinking; I don’t understand.”

I explained that he reacted the way he did, because he hadn’t experienced a woman in a management role before, and his brain was reacting to the unknown. Now that he understood his trigger, he was more equipped to handle working with women in the future. This story has a great ending. He ultimately became a champion of women in management and served as a mentor to help them move up the ranks into higher sales management roles. 

Stay tuned:  In the next issue, I’ll cover how to convey confidence.

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