Many of my mid-career coaching clients identify a desire to show up in business meetings more powerfully and confident, while quickly establishing warmth and authenticity. They are often the youngest leader in the room. They know their content cold and their expertise is unquestioned.
Just as they stand to speak, close the sale, or question the viability of a proposed action, something terrible happens. They may go week in the knees, feel their heart racing or break out in a sweat. Their mouth may inexplicably go dry, and they report that momentarily, they forgot what they were going to say. What happened? They were caught in an emotional hijack.
When asked, “what can I do in the moment to regain my composure and stay focused?” My counsel is to “put on your T.I.A.R.A.”.
The T.I.A.R.A. framework represents five actions to regulate emotions to regulate the brain’s immediate, unconscious, protective response to a perceived “social threat” – like public disapproval and rejection (Eisenberger, Lieberman & Williams 2003). The 5-point framework includes:
- Take an alternative approach
- Improve the situation
- Attention- selectively focus
- Reappraise the situation
- Adopt a positive expression
Take an alternative approach
The simplest action to regulate emotion is to not take the anxiety-ridden approach in the first place. What approach would feel more comfortable, cause less stress and better utilize your skills and strengths? Applying your strengths successfully results in increased confidence which releases brain chemicals including serotonin, endorphins, oxytocin and dopamine. These chemicals influence the feeling of safety, calmness, and happiness which keep you centered.
Improve the situation
To reduce anxiety, you can improve the situation by taking actions like arriving at the meeting room in advance to get a lay of the land, testing the sound and projection equipment, and placing an extra bottle of water strategically near your selected seat. Prior to giving a presentation, you can learn something about the other participants and call on them by name. This encourages greater interest and participation.
Attention – selectively focus
What grabs your attention and takes you off point may be an unexpected interruption or reaction, like seeing your boss looking down at his/her phone. By quickly refocusing your attention away from the distraction to someone familiar, or simply concentrating on your breathing will slow your heart rate and reduce anxiety which will provide your brain the necessary moment to regain composure and focus.
Reappraise the situation
Often our fears cause us to tell ourselves a negative story about the situation. In a split-second, we decide whether another is friend or foe, and whether the situation is to be feared or desired. You can regulate your emotions by thinking about the situation in a way that makes you feel less negative or shift the story in your head to one more positive like, “she’s just tired.” Reappraisal is a powerful way to regulate emotion.
Adopt a positive expression
Fake it to make it. Deciding to adopt a positive outlook and employing one of the emotional regulation techniques described above will help you to get through the emotional hijack. Most important, do not suppress your emotions. Suppression increases your negative emotion, increases stress, and puts you on the defensive, which reduces cognitive function. Name it to tame it. Acknowledging the emotion,
reduces its power over you.
Now, adjust your T.I.A.R.A. and get back to business!
(Butler, et al. 2003, Gross & John, 2003)