Monday, October 04, 2010

Using pressure the right way

People achieve their best when under a certain degree of pressure; but too much pressure or the wrong kind of pressure can result in stress and a reduction in a person’s effectiveness.  For example, the nerves most people experience before giving a presentation can help you stay sharp – too few nerves and you might come across as being too relaxed or even blazĂ©; while too many nerves can be so debilitating that you fail to perform. 

Wise leaders know that it is good to give people roles, responsibilities and tasks that are just beyond their current capability. This stretches people and helps them develop.  Achieving stretch goals can also help build a person’s confidence, making them capable and willing to stretch themselves a little further next time.  But give people a task that is too far beyond what they can already do and it has the opposite effect – leading to a lack of confidence, anxiety and stress.

The key to understanding where the tipping point is between too little pressure and too much pressure is confidence. 

In training, athletes will frequently set themselves new targets, continuously pushing themselves to achieve higher and higher standards. But why don’t they simply set a winning target and work towards it?  The reason is that as human beings we perform best when our confidence is continually boosted by a succession of achievements; and with each success comes the impetus, momentum and confidence to aim for something even higher.

The secret to using pressure effectively is therefore to set lots of little targets that are stretching but achievable; and to then congratulate yourself and celebrate your success with each and every achievement.

But what I meant was ……

Mis-communication, mis-understanding and confusion can happen to all of us. Despite our best intentions, other people can pick up entirely the wrong message. Sometimes it’s merely annoying or even funny. Other times it can lead to disastrous consequences. It is interesting to speculate just how many good intentions but poor communications have led to the problems surrounding the Commonwealth Games and its late delivery.

It pays to step back and remember that the communication process is not simply one person saying/doing something and one person receiving and understanding. Instead we have a double filter system operating.

I start with an intention to communicate A to you. Using my filters, I decide to do behaviour B to express my intention. Unfortunately, through your filters, my behaviour means something quite different to my original intention. So you respond to what you think is my clear, but unfortunately completely erroneous, message. I see your behaviours and translate them back and so on.

For better communication and relationships, we need to keep remembering that everyone’s filters are different. They reflect our preferences, our experiences to date, cultural norms and assumptions. Some we may be aware of, others are deeply ingrained but opaque.

When mis-understanding happens it is worth examining:
(a)    did my behaviours competently indicate my intention in the first place?
(b)    what are the possible filters the recipient might have?
(c)    did I check understanding at the intention level or simply check “receipt”?

It is also worth remembering that being human is an imperfect activity!