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How to counter fight or flight

2 min read


This guest post is by Gregory Hartley and Maryann Karinch, co-authors of “The Most Dangerous Business Book You’ll Ever Read.”

A job interview, presentation or a simple meeting with a senior executive can trigger a fight-or-flight response. One damaging side effect of it: It turns off “useless” things such as cognitive thought. So just when you need to think clearly and articulate what’s on your mind, your mind fails you. The trick is to do some contingency planning to get out of fight-or-flight mode. You can try talking yourself out of panic, but if that isn’t enough, here are just a few additional tools you can use.

  • Physical activities. Develop a set of activities such as curling your toes in your shoes. Moves like this will not only release high amounts of nervous energy, but also take conscious thought  to engage, and it will re-center you. You can hide anxiety while you collect your thoughts.
  • Preamble phrases. Experienced speakers, including many executives, use this one either inadvertently or by intent. Keep some phrases handy that lead into any kind of material. Phrases such as “There is so much to consider” or “To the best of my understanding” can help. They are rehearsed spacers, allowing you a moment to craft a substantive answer.
  • Learned response. Rehearse expected outcomes. Think about every possible negative result. What can go off track a little? What can go horribly wrong? Focus on everything from the worst case and to the undesirable. If you take this approach, you will have conditioned yourself, in advance, to deal with an emotionally disruptive issue. Then when an issue actually arises, you will be prepared to some extent and energized for action, rather than afraid of the next few seconds and minutes.
  • Face the tiger. Facing a “surrogate tiger” can teach you how to be prepared for a threat in your meeting or presentation. Ask someone you trust to give you a hard time about the issue you will have to face.  If you are afraid that September’s board meeting will be brutal, find someone with the knowledge and personality to play the role of a challenger. Another approach is to find a situation, such as a Toastmasters meeting, to prepare so that you won’t go into fight-or-flight at the real business event.