How to Keep Your Cool in Tense Situations

Nobody goes into leadership for the sake of being liked. We’re often the scapegoat for employee issues, even if those issues have nothing to do with the scope of our jobs.

I’ve been yelled at, disrespected, and recently had a phone slammed in my ear. I’ve witnessed inappropriate behavior from employees, C-suite executives, and board members.  After over 15 years of leadership, I’m still caught off guard when people act less than professional. Clearly, my standards are higher for maintaining appropriate behavior in the workplace. Here are two ways I keep my cool in these situations:

Don’t take it personal. In my experience, these people didn’t have an issue with me. In one case the individual was fighting to maintain decades of tradition, but I was the leader brought in to lead massive levels of change. In another case I was the go between for an employee and upper management. In that situation, the employee was merely attacking the messenger. I’ve managed to separate myself from the issues and recognize that it’s not an issue with me, but more so against an element of my work, or the organization I serve as a whole. It’s not personal. It’s just business.

Think about it in third person. In the moments when the conversations have become heated, I’ve referred to myself in the third person. I know this sounds weird, but why not try it? When I had a board member challenging my leadership at a board meeting, I told the board that if they did not at least consider the plans I was presenting, they would continue to have turn over with their Executive Director. I was able to keep my cool in a heated discussion, while at the same time stating my terms for continued service. Using the third person is even more helpful in writing emails and memos. If the topic is sensitive—-if personalities are charged—-this will help you set the frustration aside and address the matter objectively.

These two approaches help me keep my cool. What do you do to maintain your composure in tense situations?