This question originally appeared on Quora: What psychological tricks and hacks are useful to know?
I have two great psychological tricks for projecting yourself as a leader no matter your experience or age:
1) If You Want to Be a Leader, Never Act Surprised
In business, act as if everything, I repeat, everything is a logical consequence of something else that happened. This is extremely useful during crisis situations of all sorts when it may be your job to break bad news to people. Always project that you are in control. Even a positive surprise can be unsettling for your superiors if they feel that they don’t know what to expect going forward. Managers like predictability and don’t like surprises.
’Two simple words can make a world of difference when navigating your way through a crisis with a team. Those words are “As expected”, and they are your best friend when it comes to crisis communications. You want to place the problem in broader context. People feel less anxious about a situation when they understand its cause and effect dynamic, and your job is to give that to them.
Many problems can be traced back in some way to decisions that you and others in the business have made before, but crises have a way of giving people amnesia. They forget the trade-offs and decisions they’ve made along the way, because all they can focus on is the problem of the moment. Make an effort to be the calmest, the most rational, and above all the most contextually astute participant in the conversation. Remind people of the decisions that they and you have made so that the issues can be recognized in the context of those decisions. “As expected, a portion of our customers are still adjusting to the changes we introduced into our pricing model last quarter,” sounds so much more professional than, “OMG the customers are freaking out!”
Presentation matters. So does poise. Be the steady hand people crave in a crisis, and your stock in any organization will soar.
2) Know When to Share versus Hold onto Information
Imagine that on Monday afternoon your doctor gets the bloodwork results from your recent checkup and sees possible early signs of cancer. Most people would want to know about the doctor’s assessment as soon as possible. They might even say the doctor has an ethical responsibility to share that information. But what if the doctor knows she’ll be getting a more detailed results the next day that can confirm or deny her concerns? Add in that caveat, and now it seems that maybe a doctor shouldn’t scare the hell out of her patients until she has the facts she needs – especially if it only means waiting another day or two. But does that preference change yet again if the results won’t be ready for two more weeks?
When you try to break bad news to people “responsibly”, you can quickly find yourself in gray areas like the above. What we want to know can change with the circumstances of a situation. Sudden shocks require you to balance the “no surprises” diktat with the importance of managing your audience’s emotions. Informing your manager at the first sign of potential trouble may not be the right thing to do if you don’t have a grip on the situation yourself. If there is one thing you can be sure of when you give someone bad news, it’s that you are about to be asked a LOT of questions. If you don’t have the information you need yet to satisfy the questions they’ll have, then you are just going to leave the audience hanging. Sometimes you don’t have any choice but to start messaging upwards. Other times, you need to exercise judgment.
If the following conditions are met, it may be better to hold off explaining a new problem to your manager:
- The situation does not require immediate intervention (i.e. no laws broken, no lives at risk, no bank accounts being drained, etc.)
- You’re waiting on additional information that will make the scope of the issue clear
- You control the flow of information, and your audience won’t learn about the issue from other sources
- It’s possible that the situation can be fixed soon, allowing you to communicate both the problem and solution together
- You suspect there may be related problems lurking that should be disclosed together