How to summon grace under fire

Grace is usually thought of as a feminine trait, and it is – just not in the way you think.

It’s usually defined in terms of poise, dignity and finesse.

But in business, grace takes on a different complexion – it’s about keeping cool and levelheaded under pressure, and it’s one area where women have an advantage over their male counterparts.

Jennifer Tejada, CEO of PagerDuty, told the recent Girls in Tech conference in San Francisco said grace was a “feminine superpower”.

“We – as leaders, as managers, as individual contributors and as women – can call on some naturally feminine traits to manage challenges when they come our way,” she said.

“Grace is like courage with a side of poise and dignity. Like any superpower, it’s called upon for certain situations.

“The trick is to access it in those fight or flight moments – when what you really want to do is throw up and run away”.

She described a meeting she needed to present at in Switzerland. Her support team was unable to make it and her CEO was only able to dial in to the meeting.

Tajeda was there to meet with a key client, a big fish, so the meeting was already high-stakes and she was left as her company’s sole representative in the room.

She knew something was up when the Swiss company’s CEO walked into the room, followed by nine other men in suits.

“So the CEO says ‘I want you to understand how important this software solution is to our business, and you’re failing us, again,” said Tajeda.

“This turned into me being burned at the stake for about two hours.”

READ: How to overcome imposter syndrome

The normal, human response to this is to run from situations like that – but she called upon her powers of grace to push through the moment.

“I took a deep breath, I made eye contact and I tried to gain a real understanding of what they were looking for,” said Tajeda.

“In the end, we did get a deal done.”

Grace, in this instance, was the ability to call upon reservoirs of courage to avoid running away, taking a deep breath, and calmly analysing the situation to find the point of mutual benefit.

So how do you foster this feminine superpower?

Five tips to get your grace on:

1. Breathe deeply, breathe often

“There’s a 2017 study out of Stanford by a professor in biochemistry who discovered that actually the process of reading slowly can change the way your neurons control the activity in your brain,” said Tajeda.

“So when people say ‘take a deep breath’, there’s science behind that.

“Grace comes from mindfulness, from discipline, from control, and it starts with slowing down. It starts with giving yourself the mental and physical time to internalise what’s happening.”

2. Ask for directions

“How many of you have ordered something from IKEA, only to have your male partner just start screwing things together without the instructions?” asked Tajeda.

“Ask for directions. Studies have shown female investors and advisers perform better than their male counterparts because they didn’t get caught up in fashionable trends.

“By feeling that we don’t need to be the expert on everything, it gives us the chance to solicit great expertise, diverse input from others.”

3. Share the floor

“MIT’s study for collective intelligence found that where team members share time equally, they get much better outcomes and get to decisions faster and they bond more effectively as a team,” said Tajeda.

“If you’re in a work group, think about share of voice.”

4. …and the big decisions

When stuff is going really wrong, like someone who is mission critical quits or the business takes a turn…when something goes down, human nature is to retreat, try to control the problem, figure out a solution and contain it before we tell anybody,” said Tajeda.

Instead, do the opposite.

Open up, be transparent, share as much data as you can, get as many smart people in the room as you can…share the big decisions about what you need to do next. Don’t take that all on yourself.

5. If you don’t laugh, you might cry

“When somebody observes somebody else crying in the workplace they perceive that person as warmer, but essentially incompetent,” said Tajeda.

“The worst part of this perception is that they become wary of that cryer because they don’t want to be in an uncomfortable moment with them.

“Inversely, humour builds trust. Teams work better together and more effectively when they’re sharing laughter.”