Performing Under Pressure: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: February 26th, 2015 by bobmorris

Performing Unxder PressurePerforming Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most
Hendrie Weisinger and J.P. Pawliw-Fry
Crown Business (2015)

Howe and why pressure can be “the enemy of success: It undermines performance and helps us fail”

Hendrie Weisinger and J.P. Pawliw-Fry are well-qualified to answer a question that many of us ask at one time or another: “How can I do my best when it matters most?” For more than twenty years, they have been accumulating information about how people experience pressure. Their research has been conducted all over the world via workshops, seminars, business school presentations, clinical therapy, coaching sessions, and consulting relationships and activities with all many of organizations. “Each of the twelve thousand people we studied was assessed by anywhere from six to fourteen people, so in total we had more than one hundred thousand people assess the twelve thousand subjects. We identified the top 10 percent on their manager’s performance ratings from all who assessed them.” Insofar as how people experience pressure is concerned, this book examines what works, what doesn’t and why.

As the title of my review suggests, pressure can deplete our behavioral skills. In severely stressful situations, most people per form well below their capability. Alas, pressure can be “camouflaged” as it increases inconspicuously and, in my opinion, the stress that many (most?) people feel today is greater than at any prior time that I can remember. Weisinger and Pawliw-Fry wrote this book in order to share what they have learned about how almost anyone can do their best when it matters most.

I presume to add a few brief thoughts of my own. First, stress has dozens of sources and its impact can be either positive or negative, depending on the given circumstances. For example, deadlines can create stress but sometimes they are necessary to ensure that work is completed in a timely manner. Also, it is important to differentiate what is important from what seems to be (but often isn’t) urgent. This is one of Stephen Covey’s most important points in his classic, The 7 Habits of Effective People. Finally, there are direct – and significant – correlations between and among physical, mental, and emotional health. All three require sufficient nourishment, including restoration of energy. In other words, pressure can have either a beneficial or detrimental impact on one’s attitude and efforts, indeed on one’s health.

Weisinger and Pawliw-Fry organize and present their information, insights, and counsel within three Parts. First, they provide an understanding of the nature and science of pressure. They examine the most significant differences between pressure and stress, for example, and explain how pressure can frequently be self-imposed. Next, they suggest a number of ways by which to avoid or diminish severe, self-defeating pressure with regulation, redirection, and release of flow. Solutions include “befriending the pressure moment” by thinking of it as a challenge or opportunity rather than as a threat or peril. Finally, they introduce their concept of COTE (i.e. Confidence, Enthusiasm, Optimism, and Tenacity) and explain how to build and then preserve a “COTE of Armor,” one that consists of internal pressure management techniques, skills, tools, and other resources.

Also, of new habits of thinking and of behavior. In this context, I am again reminded of Aristotle’s observation, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” Hendrie Weisinger and J.P. Pawliw-Fry are convinced — and I wholly agree — that pressure moments often occur unexpectedly, catching us off-guard. They require an effective response and those who possess a “COTE of Armor” will be well-prepared to do so.

“Bottom line, the more you do the activities we discuss, and the more support you have to incorporate these attributes into your behavior and life, the more likely it is that you will develop the natural protection against high-pressure situations that these attributes confer.” Either manage pressure or be managed by it.

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