Today is the 25th of December, probably not the best day to send a new post, but being an impatient, I couldn’t wait… So here it is ! Happy Holidays :)
A simple definition of pressure is how much something is pushing on something else. It is expressed as force per unit area: P=F/A.
There are multiple causes and consequences. And whether it comes from ourselves, a situation or someone, it implies that the response to this stimulus won’t be steady. It will be out of the ordinary, whether it drives an exceptional self-control, an erratic behaviour or a feeling of helplessness / powerlessness.
Like any reaction, also because it’s omnipresent in our life, It’s critical that we acknowledge how pressure affects our way of thinking, deciding, acting, and how we can deal with it.
Self-destruction, dealing with ourselves
A founder from one of our portfolio company had an issue when being confronted to his mistakes, or more generally put in a position of vulnerability. You could actually see his reaction on his body. He was suddenly blushing, almost shaking, trying to contain his anger, hoping for this uncomfortable, irritating moment to disappear, by finding excuses and making things up. We came to realize that his reaction was preventing him from addressing any kind of issue with honesty, self-awareness and therefore an ability to progress. Besides the fact that his behaviour was blocking his learning curve and subsequent execution, the collateral consequence was that people was avoiding to put him in that position as they didn’t want to deal with his inability to control his truthful emotions. Ultimately, he was living in the delusion that everything was fine while he was actually being isolated from the rest of the group.
I believe we could have helped him sooner through deductive actions by:
Logging the most obvious manifestations of this behaviour, and their contexts;
Waiting for the right moment, good grounds, to address how he reacted to certain events regardless the underlying matters;
Explaining to him how his reactions affected his performance and his peers.
It’s a good start but it’s not enough. Once we know what is wrong with us, it’s necessary to find the triggers that will help us progress, just like we would treat an addiction. Usually it comes with:
Finding in the past, the characters or events that are at the origin of some behaviours;
Enjoying the moments when we face those manifestations and successfully battle against them;
Not giving up, nurturing self-awareness by admitting a wrongful behaviour even after the events.
Sometimes situations are forced upon us and even though we would prefer to react with more self-control and less susceptibility, we simply find ourselves overwhelmed by the pressure of an event.
In Venture Capital, we often witness this type of scenario in board rooms when things hit the fan. It’s not uncommon that companies are struggling with funding, product quality, financial planning, sales velocity…
A dose of relativism allows us to take a step back to look fully at a situation without feeling overwhelmed. Life is a continuous struggle that we were born to face. But most situations don’t have fatal outcomes. Failure is most of the time a temporary marker of our learning curve. therefore our abilities to react accordingly to a situation shouldn’t be obstructed by our fear of showing our vulnerabilities or acting accordingly with self-awareness and perspective.
In any given situation, when tough situations and pressure arise, it seems appropriate:
To keep our head clear by releasing the pressure. We shall breathe, meditate, put the situation in a box as it should be handled, no more no less;
To look at the perspectives from all parties, listen, ask questions, it provides a better understanding of situation and allow us to release the pressure;
To isolate, calm down, handle the weakest elements in the room, whether they seem to be blocked or overreacting.
From there only we can work around and within the situation, although they are all different, with their set of elements and intricacies.
Reaction to someone’s pressuring moves
It’s normal to feel angry at someone for having put pressure on us either by giving us a hard deadline, by taking the lead unexpectedly on something, by pushing us to deliver faster. But are we mad because of the act itself, the pressure we felt, or because this person was implicitly sending a message that was worth receiving and that we didn’t caught yet…
If we pay enough attention to our interactions with our peers, partners, managers, we can detect signals that show, beyond the acts, what people expect from us. Those are the benefits of feedback loops, objectives & key results, performance reviews… And there are certainly great things to learn from them.
Sometimes, the pressure is useless, it’s enforced by people who are abusing their authority, trying to lead by fear or other abusive subterfuge. Yes, regardless if people are benevolent, deviant or evil, we shall try to cut through the noise to see if we can gather any learnings from some of those pressuring moves that we endure. Indeed, if we manage to progress and evolve, those pressuring events, and/or their impact on us, will likely decrease. And if they don’t, progress is never lost, what we gain from our experiences can hopefully be useful elsewhere.
Pressure can also act as a natural positive dynamic. I came to realise over the years that I had an ability to react positively to the pressure triggered by my defiance to authority, my need for honest appreciation and my will to win.
We all have natural triggers of action that we don’t know about or under-estimate, they are great drivers of achievements. Find those moments when you felt that pressure was an enabler rather than a blocker, and try to replicate those conditions.
I felt to write this post after three pressuring events that happened the same day.
The first one was regarding a deal. The second one was when I put pressure on someone myself, hoping to make this person realise what they could accomplish. The third one was during an email thread that required a full & immediate attention.
Even though I always find a way to discard pressure whenever I feel that a situation starts to take ridiculous proportions (by my standard), I had never properly reflected on this notion. So here I am.