5 Secrets For Never Losing Your Cool Again

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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

Hand Me That Crescent Wrench

If you’re a guy reading this post, you likely knew what I was asking for.

I might be stretching the truth a bit, but if you’re a gal, you likely said, “Huh?”

Why is that?

First of all, let’s put everyone on the same page here. A crescent wrench actually refers to an adjustable wrench that was originally made in 1907 by the Crescent Tool Company of Jamestown, NY. Much like Kleenex is to tissues or Band-Aid is to bandages, the crescent wrench was popularized by the company that first manufactured it.

Image courtesy of winnond at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

While that little tidbit of data will only earn you points in a trivia game, it’s kind of interesting information to have – especially if you’re a woman in construction.

I’ve worked in the construction industry for most of my adult life. And while I don’t actually have to drive nails or hang drywall, I have some first-hand knowledge of how to do the jobs.

I was lucky. I grew up working in my family’s summer resort business in Canada. At the time, I’m not so sure I felt lucky; but looking back, it helped shaped so many things in my life.  I was the oldest of two girls, and Dad needed help. He always told me that I could do anything any boy could do, and I believed him. Of course, I’m guessing some of that was propaganda just so I’d work harder and not complain.

So, from a very young age, you’d find me following Dad around to each cottage, the boat house and the tool shed. At 8, I begged him to let me cut the grass. By the time I was 9, I already knew how to fix the mower when it was low on oil or the spark plug needed changing. I remember him pulling out tools one-by-one, telling me what they were called and how they were used. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I was learning the “tools of the trade” – every trade.

My family was pretty conservative back then. They wouldn’t pay for something they could do themselves, and that meant just about everything. I learned how to shingle a roof, build a dock, hang drywall (that stuff is heavy!), mix and pour concrete, build a laminate countertop, lay linoleum, fix the plumbing, wire a light fixture, fix a boat motor and paint everything in sight. It really wasn’t fair that I was the only one brave enough to sit on the boat house roof to paint the metal flashing!

It wasn’t as if I was a tomboy or that Dad thought any of these jobs could be categorized as man’s or woman’s work – it was just work that had to be done. I also learned how to clean cottages, to cook meals, take reservations and how to speak to customers – always with a smile on my face and light in my eyes.

The years passed, and I married a man that was just as good with his hands as Dad was. I carried on the tradition of helping with projects around our home – always happy to roll up my sleeves and pitch in. And like a nurse handing the surgeon his instruments, I was always at the ready with the right tool.

Fast forward to my construction jobs – first in commercial and then residential. My employers, and better yet, the contractors at the job sites were more than surprised that the blonde with the skirt and high heels actually knew a thing or two about the work that was being done. Very few knew my background, but knowing the right methods, terminology and tools gave me the credibility I might not have had otherwise. How good it was to be involved with finding solutions to problems, not just hearing about them afterward.

I’ve come to realize that construction, although still a male-dominated industry, is not unlike any other. If you want to fit in, and if you want to be part of the workforce that earns their living doing it, you have to learn the language. That means learning the names of the tools, understanding what they’re used for and maybe even trying your hand at some of the jobs yourself.

My dad and I still believe I can do whatever I set my mind to, and now my daughter believes it about herself too. Don’t let your gender determine where you choose to work. Take the time to learn the “lingo,” and you’ll fit in just fine.

Image Courtesy of adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image Courtesy of adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Now hand me that crescent wrench.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. I’d love to hear some of your ideas on this subject.  

Enthusiastically,

Debbie Dey