It doesn’t take a rocket genius to recognize that we often behave differently when we’re relaxed than we do when we’re under pressure. In fact, I’d bet most of us can reliably predict how our personality traits change between these two states of being.
What are personality traits? I’ve said this before, but traits emerge from the interaction of genes and environment. This is good news, actually, because it suggests that these distinguishing features and characteristics of our personality can be modified. Deeply ingrained habits? Yes. Influenced by our genetic code? Yes. Set in stone? No.
When do we display a pressured response? The causes can be as simple as encountering an unfamiliar situation, an impending deadline or an unexpected response from a colleague. Some of us have sensitivities or hot buttons that trigger stress in us. For athletes, pressure occurs during high-stakes races and games. Early life experiences probably moderate and shape our pressure response to a greater degree than do all but the most traumatic recent life experiences, but both impact the degree and nature of response.
How can we measure personality shifts due to pressure? The Human Patterns results assess personality preferences and avoidances under both relaxed (proactive) and pressured (reactive) conditions. With Human Patterns assessment results, it is easy to identify exactly how an individual varies between relaxed and pressured conditions. Sometimes the difference between proactive and reactive conditions is so marked that something called a “switch” occurs, which is a significant personality change between the two conditions that can be surprising to observers that are not familiar with how a person operates.
What does a pressure response look like? It’s tempting to assume that a pressured response always looks like the person is stressed– meaning anxious, jittery, unfocused– but that is not the case. When I say pressured response, I’m not talking about an over-stressed condition. I’m referring to day to day typical minor pressures and these can look like just about anything that the individual has determined to be adaptive in the past. In fact, some people will become more determined, more lighthearted or more focus on relaxing. It’s quite possible for some people to appear less stressed when they are in pressured conditions.
Applying knowledge about pressured responses in different people:
- Self Knowledge. To truly know oneself is a powerful thing because it’s easy to have an unclear picture of ourselves. Limits in self knowledge can result in us getting unintended responses from those around us, which is a kind of stress that we don’t really need.
- Appreciating Individual Differences. Colleagues, family member and clients all have their own personal ways to responding to life’s pressures. Some methods appear more adaptive and resilient than others, but there are a wide range of effective methods in practice. It’s helpful to remember that our way is not the only way.
- Accurate Behavior Attribution. Recognizing pressure responses in those close to us for what they are is very helpful in better understanding the meaning behind their behaviors. Because pressure responses in others can be very different than our own, it is easy to assume differences in felt urgency that just aren’t accurate.
- Conflict Management. By knowing what to expect from yourself and others in your life when the pressure rises, it’s easier to recognize the potential for conflicts between individuals who respond differently to pressure. By getting a handle on accurate behavior attribution and appreciating individual differences, conflicts can be resolved in a healthy, collaborative manner instead of escalating from miscommunication and misunderstanding.
- Changing Our Pressure Response. If you recognize some pressure response habits that you’d like to change, the good news is that it’s possible to do so. Remember that new experiences continue to shape how we interact with the world, so take a part in shaping those influences. Just like learning any new skill or amending any existing habit– the effort must be consistent, specific, and incremental.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re an athlete, coach, entrepreneur, family member or all of the above. Understanding how we respond under pressure is a critical skill for performing well in any interpersonal situation.