How Well Do You Work Under Pressure?

Suggestions for how to demonstrate calm leadership in high-pressure situations.

By David Cox, SPHR, SHRM-SCP | October 31, 2017

If you are seeking a new job, you will be a stronger candidate if you can demonstrate the ability to work well under pressure. Every survey we review shows “works well under pressure” as one of the top qualities employers want in their new hires.

I don’t know about you, but I must have missed the course in “How to Work Well Under Pressure” while I was in college. Our education in this area is limited to on-the-job training. The mistakes along the way can be quite embarrassing for you and expensive for your employer. Perhaps a little research might be helpful.

I recently read at article online was by Diane Gottsman, an author and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in executive leadership and business etiquette training. She suggests the following tips to build strength and confidence when the pressure is on at work.


Consider how your body typically responds to high pressure situations. Are your shoulders tight or are your fists and teeth clenched? Take a few moments to breathe deeply and focus on relaxing every part of your body. This is a natural exercise we can all make time for, and it’s discreet enough to do at your desk.

Take time

Assess the situation, ask pertinent questions, and process what has taken place before responding. There may not be an immediate solution, and if it’s not necessary to give an answer that you have not completely thought out—don’t!

Rely on others for support

A team of trusted colleagues, friends, and mentors can serve as invaluable advisors. Life is much easier when we can rely on others to serve as sounding boards, if only to offer another perspective or simply to listen. Build a core group of supporters who will be there for you in times of crisis and don’t forget that reliance is a reciprocal relationship.

Take care of yourself

One of the big secrets of those who remain cool under pressure is their dedication to a healthy lifestyle. Stick to a healthy routine, whether stress is swirling around you or everything is going beautifully. Exercise is a great stress neutralizer. Eating well and getting enough sleep will help you stay in top form. Walking just 30 minutes a day will do wonders for your physical and mental well-being.

Step away from the situation

You can’t undo a temper tantrum. The best strategy for preventing a public meltdown is to excuse yourself until strong emotions subside. This is not always possible, but if so, it can prove a wise course of action. If you step away, let it be known that you will be addressing the issue, whether it is in the next hour or at the next meeting.

Remember that you are setting an example

Whether you are the receptionist or the CEO, others will notice how you handle adversity. Use workplace challenges as an opportunity to help those around you stay calm and they likely follow your lead. Be a role model for handling stress. If you strive to approach these situations with poise and a cool head, you’ll demonstrate leadership.

Look for the lesson

It’s been said that there are two outcomes for any occurrence; success or education. Proactively look at ways to correct the situation, but also consider how the knowledge you are gain will help you in the future.

Finally, keep workplace turmoil in perspective

Employees survive and come out of the stressful situations wiser for the experience. Think of others, those you know or admire, who have survived office upheaval and gone on to achieve bigger things and even better opportunities. Handling professional setbacks is part of a successful career.

David Cox


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