Does your personality shift when you are under pressure? My bet is that your response was something like, “No. Of course not. I am who I am.” Taking this a step further, I bet that if you asked those closest to you, those who see you in moments of duress, they may have a different answer. Going back to JOHARI’s window, this is a behavior that is known to others but not known to you…a blind spot.

Why might it be helpful to know this about ourselves? Forearmed is forewarned. Being aware of this can help us in two ways. First, it can help us recognize within ourselves when we are experiencing stress. Second, it enables us to proactively communicate with those around us what they might expect to see when we are feeling pressured.

Using myself as an example, I know that when I am under pressure, I become more relational. How does this show up? I will take more time to make sure that everyone knows what the priorities are; why these are important to achieving our goals; and to understand what they need from me in order to contribute fully toward these outcomes.

How might this be perceived by those around me? Some of the feedback I’ve gotten over the years is that it can feel like I am micromanaging. Where I am typically someone who gives the team plenty of autonomy, when I’m under pressure, all of a sudden, I am much more prescriptive about what needs to be done and by when…and, sometimes I’d even dip into directing how it should be done. I can become singularly focused on making the impossible possible. In other words, I’m not a lot of fun to be around.

Seems kind of an odd thing not to notice about myself, right? The thing is, when we’re under duress, we don’t have the capacity to take a step back and evaluate how we’re showing up objectively. Truly, our brain sees this as a threat and shifts to fight, flight, or freeze in order to protect ourselves. So, unless we have taken assessments that suss out this shift or we are able to solicit and take in feedback from those around us, this may well remain a blind spot.

Conversely, now that I know this about myself, I have become aware of the things that trigger me. This allows me to notice when I am starting to get stressed and to begin to do things to mitigate that stress. One of those things is to engage my team differently. By explaining that when I am under pressure, I may appear as though I don’t trust them or that I need them to do things ‘my way,’ but that is not the case. I’m acting from a defensive posture, from a need to protect myself and the team from whatever I see as a threat. A few things that I’ve learned that can help them shift me out of this include having them clearly and confidently articulate their understanding of the priorities and their plan to achieve them and, where appropriate, focusing my attention on those things I can do that will support them. For example, if they need me to clear the way in getting information or addressing a roadblock, these can be positive uses of my personality under pressure.

Before I understood how my personality shifted, I would frustrate myself and those around me. And, while we would get the job done, it came at a cost. I would disempower and disengage those on my team. By understanding and articulating this with those around me, it opens the door for us to be able to have constructive conversations about the ways in which I am enabling and disabling the team.