Performing Under Pressure, by Hendrie Weisinger and J.P. Pawliw-Fry

Performing Under Pressure explores the various ways pressure affects employees and organizations.

Many of us have experienced difficulty in dealing with pressure in our professional or personal lives. So how can we manage pressure so it becomes an asset instead of a major impediment?

Psychologist Hendrie Weisinger and performance coach and adviser J.P. Pawliw-Fry, co-authors of Performing Under Pressure, have spent more than 20 years studying pressure and how it affects employees and organizations. The book reports on their extensive research, based on a worldwide study of 12,000 people that the authors conducted. They note that 10% of their subjects — the so-called top 10% — handle pressure successfully, most notably by being more in tune with their physiological responses and by not becoming defensive when faced with criticism.

Performing Under Pressure is full of clearcut examples from the worlds of sports, academia and business. Fortunately, it steers clear of two pitfalls: promoting magical thinking and providing a step-by-step approach to guaranteed happiness.

The book begins by discussing the nature and science of pressure, and then addresses its many adverse effects, such as drug use, cheating, bullying, drastic personality changes and even suicide.

Weisinger and Pawliw-Fry challenge a number of widely held ideas about pressure. For instance, they explain that individuals do not perform better under pressure.

Moreover, pressure impairs cognitive abilities (judgment, decision-making, memory and attention) and greatly hinders creativity.

Interestingly, the authors devote an entire chapter to choking under pressure. In one example, they cite the Philadelphia Phillies, who, in 1964, blew a six-and-a-half-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals when they suffered a 10-game losing streak late in the regular season, ruining their chance at a World Series run.

Even basketball superstar Michael Jordan has admitted to making mistakes throughout his career because of pressure.

After defining a host of problems, Weisinger and Pawliw-Fry suggest two ways of addressing them.

First, they list 22 useful, short-term "pressure solutions," such as focusing on the mission of a project, for example, rather than the outcome; expecting the unexpected; and recognizing one’s self-worth.

Second, they provide a blueprint for building a "COTE of Armor" as a long-term solution. The acronym stands for confidence, optimism, tenacity and enthusiasm and, according to the authors, it is part of the "DNA of success."