Five Ways to be a Force of Calm in a Time of Turmoil

Intensity is highly overrated.

In times of crisis, people turn to people who are calm.

Not emotionless.
Not uncommunicative.
Not borderline comatose.


Calm is what builds trust, mitigates stress, remedies confusion and inspires followership.

THE ONLY PROBLEM IS: You can’t really calm people down.

All you can do is turn yourself into a force of calm, in the hopes that you’ll infect people with the energy they need to do the same.

Here’s how:1. Oxygenate the conversation. People who incorporate deep, slow breathing into their daily actions never fail to become the calming force. Doing so is like taking your foot off the gas and engaging the conversational brakes.

According to a recent report from the National Institute of Mental Health, your breathing rhythm is a method to train the body’s reaction to stressful situations and dampen the production of harmful stress hormones.

Next time one of your coworkers starts freaking out, try this: Instead of telling them to take a deep breath – which runs the risk of sounding like their third grade teacher – try engaging your own lungs first. You’ll find that actions of calm will inspire people to relax, whereas instructions for calm sill incite people to react.

Linda, my massage therapist, is a master of this. Whenever I come in for an appointment, she treats our sessions as meditations. She doesn’t say a word – she just rubs and breathes. And after a few minutes, I am reduced to jelly.

Lesson learned: When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace; but when you inspire others to own their breath, nobody will want you to leave the room. Fast heart, slow lungs works every time. How’s your breathing?

2. Make communication a relaxing experience. During a recent outpatient procedure, my podiatrist administered three shots of local anesthetic to my foot. Ouch. But as much as it hurt, I’ll never forget hearing the following words:

“It’s over Scott. I’m not going to hurt you anymore.”

Definitely one of the great calming remarks I’ve ever heard. That’s what I love about Dr. Kauffman: He’s a light and comfort to everyone he encounters. Nothing could be more relaxing.

On the other hand, some medical professionals mere presence stresses patients out. Yikes. And if you want to avoid this label, the key is to ask yourself two key questions:

*When you walk into a room, how does it change?
*When you walk out of a room, how does it change?

If you’re not satisfied with the reactions you’ve been getting, don’t criticize the room. Instead, look in the mirror. Because whatever change occurs to a room as you enter and exist in is a tangible representation of how your character, actions, words, reputation and personality have both preceded and affected the people around you. What affect does your presence you have on the completion of the room?

3. When people panic, give them instructions. Consider the recent emergency with Qantas Flight 32. According to the Associated Press article, a jet engine as big as a bus had disintegrated, blasting shrapnel holes in the super jumbo’s wing. The odds of that many failures occurring simultaneously were one and a hundred million.

But veteran pilot Richard de Crespigny handled the chaos exquisitely. I even listened to the announcement recorded on a passenger’s cell phone several times, and The Captain was perfectly collected. Here’s the transcript:

“We have a technical issue with our engine. We have dealt with this situation. The aircraft is secure. And we’re going to have to hold for a little while as we lighten our load and perform a number of checklists. Thanks for your patience and we promise to keep you posted.”

Thanks to his calming force, the aircraft averted what could have been a catastrophe. And whether you’re flying a plane, leading a team, consoling a teammate or delivering a presentation to a frightened audience, the lesson is the same:

People want to know what action you’re going to take to fix their problem.

This preserves their sense of control and realigns the balance of power. Explain every step of the process. Even the things that could possibly go wrong. Timeliness reduces anxiety. Will your calm influence infect the people around you?

4. Refuse to take ownership of their emotions. Let’s say you work with someone who creates more drama than a high school prom. Perfect. Next time they start freaking out, don’t waste your breath telling them to calm down. This does nothing but compound their frustration.

Your job is to become a body of water. Instead of steeling yourself – still yourself. Keep your vocal pitch and volume low. Limit your physical movements. And avoid anything that might fuel already escalating emotions.

This practice, while it takes significant self-control, will invite people to see the reflection of their own reactivity and enable the release of negative energy. And hopefully, as their emotional engine runs out of steam, your stillness will serve as a subtle bell of awareness to bring people back to center.

Either that or they’ll club you over the head with a stapler.

Remember: You can’t put people at ease if you’re not at easy with yourself. Is your silence a positive motivator?

5. Calm comes from experience. Getting audited sucks. Happened to me earlier this year. And because it was my company’s first run with the Internal Revenue Service, my initial reaction was anything but calm.

Fortunately, I had two mentors in my corner to keep me relaxed. First, my accountant: Lisa. Her exact words were, “This is the best thing the IRS could ever ask you to do.” Thank God. Her silver-lining philosophy lowered my heartbeat immediately.

Second, my father: Mark. His exact words were, “It’s no big deal. We get audited all the time.” Whew. As a fellow entrepreneur, his nonchalant reassurance lowered my blood pressure immediately.

If you want to do the same to the people who matter most, use whatever relevant experience you have. Don’t over-identify. Don’t bring it back to you. And don’t pretend to be something you’re not. Just make sure people undergoing times of turmoil can turn to you – someone who’s been there before – and think to themselves, “I am not alone.”

Remember: There’s nothing more calming than communicating your mutual humanity. Are you positioned as someone who remains unreasonably peaceful in times of chaos?

REMEMBER: People who exhibit calm temperament in a troubled world are always in high demand.

They get seen, get hired and get promoted.
They get noticed, get remembered and get business.
They make the cut, make the day and make the room better.

And the best part is: You don’t even have to do anything – you simply have to be.

Be a paragon of stillness.
Be balm to a troubled world.
Be the calming force in times of turmoil.

People will turn to you.

Why are you rushing?

For the list called, “27 Affirmations to Prepare Yourself to Listen,” send an email to me, and you win the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor

Never the same speech twice.

Now booking for 2011!

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