Remain Calm to Maintain Your Presence and Personal Power

I just finished Amy Cuddy’s new book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. I’ve been a fan of Cuddy’s since I first saw her Ted Talk which focused on how we can use our bodies to feel more confident and powerful. I highly recommend watching it and picking up a copy of her new book.

As I read the book I came across a section where she shared how her reactivity to criticism actually hurt her presence and thus her personal power. Her story reminded me of several huge lessons I learned early in my career at State Auto Insurance.

In the mid 1990s I moved into a new job which was a newly created position in the company. One of my responsibilities was to create new sales reports using Microsoft products so senior management wouldn’t have to wait for the old mainframe reports. They recognized creating and revising reports would be much faster and easier using the new technology.

I had produced a series of sales reports that were distributed to mid-level and senior managers throughout the company. A couple of managers from one office disagreed with some of my numbers and labels but rather than get with me to discuss the matter they sent a scathing memo to my boss and several others, including the CEO.

I remember where I was when I read their memo and I was pissed! Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to tell myself, “Your self-worth is not wrapped up in those reports.” With that I decided not to respond for a few days.

Once my head cleared and my emotions subsided I went through the memo and addressed every criticism in a response to my boss, the Vice President of Sales. Where I made mistakes, I owned up to them and told him what corrections I would make. Most of the report was correct and I made sure to point that out and why I believed that to be the case. My only goal was to make sure my boss knew I was on top of it.

Unbeknownst to me, he shared my response with the CEO. In turn the CEO promptly sent a note to all managers which said, “When I put Brian in this position is wasn’t to make him the resident S.O.B. of the company. If you have issues with what he produces please see me.” When the CEO has your back that’s a good feeling!

But here’s the icing on the cake. During a big market strategy session, with more than 50 of our top brass in attendance, one of the people who authored the memo was presenting information about his territory. As he discussed his market strategy report, which he had prepared himself, he told the assembled group of managers to, “Cross out that number because it’s wrong.” Moments later the company president slipped me a note that read, “Paybacks are a bitch,” and he smiled as I read it.

Between the backing of my boss, the president and our CEO, I knew I had made the right choice to respond rather than react to the situation.

Here are three big lessons I learned that might come in handy for you someday.

  1. Don’t be reactive. As Cuddy points out, you diminish your personal power when you react because you don’t allow yourself to consider the best options. This is especially true the more emotional you are.
  2. Admit mistakes. Dale Carnegie famously said, “When you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.” Doing this builds what Robert Cialdini calls your “authority” because you’re viewed as being more honest and trustworthy.
  3. Hold your ground when you’re right. It would have been a big failure on my part to not point out all the areas where I had produced correct information. The last thing you want it to continually be on the defensive if you want to be successful when it comes to persuasion.

Most situations you face are not life and death where thinking too long could be fatal. In the vast majority of the situations you encounter you have time to respond but you need to quickly remind yourself of that fact. Remember, you’ll have more personal power in the moment if you respond rather than react. I hope remembering this post proves as beneficial for you just as pausing did for me.

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