The best compliment I ever received from my boss was, “You’re always so cool. No matter what I throw at you, you’re always composed and ready for action.”
As a man not prone to throwing compliments around, that was high praise.
Hearing that he admired that quality in me was both motivating and terrifying. The truth of the matter was, even after working for him for more than 10 years, I was still intimated whenever I had to walk into his office.
It seems foolish now, but I felt like a phony accepting his accolades when I was anything but “cool” whenever he started to pile on the work. Each time he called me into his office (which is still a million times a day), I’d get a knot in my stomach, start to sweat and considered running as fast as I could in the other direction. Instead, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and faked it.
I’ve grown confident with experience, and you can too. Rather than enrolling in acting classes or buying stock in an antacid company, try some or all of my top five secrets for overcoming anxiety in the workplace:
#1 – Slow down.
The first thing you need to do is take control of your own actions. When you get nervous, your breathing increases, your heart rate rises, and your movements speed up. It seems as if the world is closing in around you and panic sets in. Of course, this is an irrational response to some fabricated problem, but at that moment, it seems very real.
Seriously, stop for a minute and take a deep breath. In fact, take several. Deep breathing exercises have long been proven to be beneficial in slowing the heartbeat and stabilizing blood pressure. Breathe in through your nose. Allow the air to fill your chest completely and then slowly exhale through your mouth. When you’re anxious or stressed, you tend to hyperventilate and your lungs don’t get a sufficient amount of oxygenated air. This can actually increase tension, so take some time to practice this technique.
#2 – Stay organized.
Any assistant knows that one of the job’s key functions is to keep track of their space AND the boss’s space. Any time you’re called in for an update or to be given a new task, your supervisor expects you to know the status of every other assignment you’ve been working on. While this can be as stressful as actually doing the work, keeping a clutter-free work area will help you clearly manage your workload.
Chron.com experts reinforce this concept citing that “organization also gives you a sense of control and allows for increased productivity.” When you stop hurriedly shuffling papers to find something you “just had a minute ago,” you’ll feel calmer, gain more confidence and earn the trust of your superiors more easily. So, review your work area, file what you can and throw away anything you can retrieve digitally.
#3 – Do your homework.
Just like with every project or presentation you’ve ever done, the more prepared you are, the more confident you feel and act. Think of each session with your boss like a presentation, and assemble the appropriate materials to prepare for it. Create a To Do List or Project Schedule to keep track of each task. Free templates are available through Excel or Google to manage, update and prepare a timeline for completion. Be sure to add new assignments, delete them when finished, and review the schedule at the start of each day. Not only will you have the tools to respond to any inquiry with ease, you’ll never lose track of an assignment again.
#4 – Anticipate.
We’re not mind readers, but sometimes it feels like we have to be. If your days are anything like mine, you’re often asked to make decisions for your boss when he’s unavailable or out of the office. This means making a judgment call as to what you “think” he wants you to do. As you become more familiar with his philosophies and typical responses, it will become a little easier to speak for him. Of course, when you do, make certain to document your course of action and reasoning so you can relay it to him later. This helps reduce “second-guessing” and will give you a clearer understanding of how he’d like you to handle similar situations in the future.
Use caution in anticipating his responses too often. After years of working together, it can be easy to assume you always know what he’ll say. Just when you think you’ve got him figured out, he’ll surprise you with something totally out of character. This could derail your efforts to reduce anxiety and maintaining control.
#5 – Communicate often.
There’s no better way to rid yourself of those thoughts of self-doubt than to practice, practice, practice. This means that you’ll need to force yourself to meet face-to-face with your supervisor with regular updates BEFORE he asks. In an environment where technology is facilitating self-sufficiency at executive levels, it’s more important than ever to apply a personal touch through human communication. While you may prefer to hide behind email or text message correspondence, there are no better ways of increasing productivity than being able to see and hear what is being said.
You may be aware of the Bloomberg study that shows only 7% of communication actually involves words. With 55% of visual (body language and eye contact) and 38% of vocal (tone, speed, pitch and volume) messages never reaching the intended audience, one-on-one interactions are essential to the development of a strong executive/assistant relationship. Trust me, updating him on the details of one project at a time takes the pressure off you and actually helps you build a reputation of always being proactive, productive and composed.
As one-half of an essential business partnership, the onus is on you to acquire all the skills needed to boost productivity. Overcoming your discomfort and insecurities will not only improve your relationship but will ensure your position as a valuable member of the team.
Image Courtesy of marcolm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net