The ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ slogan was originally a wartime instruction (from 1939). It’s been popularised some 75 years later and is used to sell everything from bags to T-shirts to posters. The message was meant to encourage ‘sober restraint’, or if you like, ’keeping your cool’. But how do you exercise ‘sober restraint’ when your day’s gone badly wrong? When your boss has criticised you - in front of everyone - because your sales figures have fallen more than anyone else’s. When you’re constantly being reminded by management about pending job-cuts. And when you receive a phone call from a furious client informing you that his order still hasn’t arrived. How?
There are many reasons why it’s important to develop the skills of managing your emotions. Research by TalentSmart found that the overwhelming majority of top performers are skilled at keeping their emotions in check. Not keeping your cool on a regular basis poses health risks. One study found that people who get angry regularly are more likely to suffer from heart disease, eating disorders and obesity. Several other studies report a link between anger and conditions such as anxiety and depression. So read on for four effective strategies to help you become calmer at work, no matter what your boss – or anyone else - throws at you.
1. Become the ‘Mr Calm’ or ‘Ms Calm’ of the office
In case you’re about to dismiss this idea as impossible, don’t. Your aim should be to develop this image. Try writing down a short description of your ‘ideal self’, and be sure to include phrases such as ‘calm under pressure’. The Hollywood actor Cary Grant was famously quoted as saying, “I acted like Cary Grant for so long I became him.”
2. See the humour in the your anger
An easy way to do this is by ‘catastrophizing’ - taking a deliberately dramatic view - of the situation. Exaggerate a situation that you are angry about and then laugh at your absurd reaction. For example, if you are angry that a colleague hasn’t sent you a report that is relevant to important work you are doing, so that you end up missing a deadline, you could ’dramatise’ the situation by saying something such as: “He’s been planning for years to ruin my report. He’s probably opening the champagne right now.” The idea behind this technique is that by grossly exaggerating the situation, you’ll take the edge off your anger.
3. Be resolutely solutions-focused
Stress often arises when we shift from being solutions-focused to being problem- focused. Being solutions-focused should become part of your ’ideal’ image. Once again, the more you see yourself as a solutions-focused person, the easier you will find it to develop this quality. There are simple techniques that can help you become more ‘solution-focused’. Faced with an exploding client, you could ask what’s known in the coaching profession as a ‘usefulness’ question, for example, ask: “What would be the best outcome for you from this conversation?” In other words, ask a question that the client will clearly value. Another useful tip is to ask a ‘yes-set’ question: one that will result in a ‘yes’ reply from a client. A simple example would be, “Is it OK if I ask you a question?”
Having a focused and plan of action with clear goals and routes to get there will give you that crucial sense of control, which will reduce your stress levels and increase your sense of calm.
4. Challenge your perception of events
It’s easy to feel that your unrealistic workload, brutal boss and out-of-control client are the reasons why you’re not calm at work. Yet how we feel is also related to our perception of events. Be alert for clues that your stressful feelings may not be proportional to whatever it is that is causing your stress. Look out for any sweeping statements and overgeneralisations you make, such as ‘Everything is going wrong’. If you find yourself making these statements, then that’s a good clue that you should challenge your perception of the situation. Write down what is actually wrong – you’ll probably find that things are not that bad, after all.
Not keeping your cool can ruin your relationships, your work and your health. The strategies above are tried and tested ways of ‘interrupting’ anger, of ‘buying you time’ so that you are able to restore your sense of calm and control when faced with stressful situations.