A while ago, I attended a panel of local Latinas who are also General Counsel in their jobs and they had a ton of advice to offer. One of their big pieces of advice, that they all agreed on, was the need to exude confidence and grace under pressure. This is easier said than done—especially if you practice in a field where everything is high risk or you’re in a firm where people act like everything is a crisis.
How can you cultivate this skill? Being calm and exuding confidence takes practice. It’s mindful and purposeful. It requires working on your reactions and demeanor both in and out of the office. How you practice this will be different for everyone. Meditation may work for some, but not for others. Honestly for me, I prefer a more analytical approach over meditation. Whenever there’s a “crisis” happening, I take a moment to pause and assess—what are the options/solutions? Before just freaking out and sounding the alarms. I do this in personal situations as well as problems at work and that has served me well.
Now let me not lie, of course there are moments where I slam the phone and curse out loud (hello, I’m a lawyer), but when it comes to interacting with other people about a problem, the goal is always to be as strategic and calm as possible. Maybe it helped me that I had a craycray boss as an intern so I instinctively avoid outbursts. So just think of the people that are volatile or completely unsure of themselves—it’s unlikely that their behavior is what you want to emulate, so when confronted with an issue, take a beat before reacting.
Of course, it’s not enough to just remain calm when discussing a problem. It’s always better to come prepared with possible solutions. Say there’s a problem with a case or a client is upset, instead of rushing to your boss and freaking out—consider your options? What are the alternatives? Solutions? What can be done to remedy this? You’ll make your supervisor’s life so much easier if you say there’s a plan B, C, & D that they can assess rather than having them start from scratch.
Another necessary skill to work on is to become more decisive. One of my fave jokes on Veep is Selina’s long-time friend & confidante, Karen. Anytime Selina asks for her input, Karen just confuses her because Karen can never fully make a decision or give advice. “What do I think? I think there’s a lot to think?”
She is a living, breathing example of getting to maybe. And yes, our practice isn’t always definitive, but as you grow in your career, you have to become comfortable with making choices and offering your opinion. If you’re at a meeting and your boss asks for your input, you will sound more dependable and competent if you can offer strategy and advice, rather than hemming and hawing about the upside to both options.
For those that are perfectionists or are hesitant to take the lead, you really need to strengthen this skill. Start small, in your everyday life, and then move on to bigger things.
Ultimately, being able to present a problem in a calm demeanor with options and the ability to make a decision (or advice on which path to take) will make you a valuable member of any team. And even if you don’t aspire to be a GC, these heightened skills will make you a strong candidate in any other position you take on down the line.