5 Steps to (Re)Gain Your Composure


“I feel completely on edge around my boss,” my coaching client told me. “Soon after we started working together, she gave me really negative feedback. I want to improve our relationship, but I get anxious every time I meet with her. Now she is telling me I come across as defensive and insecure which doesn’t inspire much confidence in my leadership ability. I know I’m a capable leader. I always got good feedback before. But I feel completely knocked off my game and I every time I see her things just get worse.”

My client was caught in a never-ending loop: The negative feedback caused her to doubt herself, which made her nervous and agitated, which made her look even less competent to her supervisor, which led to more negative feedback…

Even the most self-assured person can get knocked off balance, literally or metaphorically. It can cause an entire season of uncertainty, as with my client, or it can be a temporary blip. Recently, I attended a conference in Michigan. Suddenly, during the presentation immediately before mine, alarm bells began ringing over the PA system and on everyone’s phones: Tornado Warning! (My first ever!) Chaos reigned for a second as everyone checked their phones and wondered what to do. But the speaker managed the interruption beautifully. She regained her composure and the group’s attention, then turned to the organizer for instructions. Once it was safe, she seamlessly finished the presentation. Time was saved and everyone felt safer because she, as the leader, got herself back on track immediately.

Whether it’s a momentary hiccup or a long-standing difficult relationship, an unexpected shock or a dreaded conversation, there are physical things you can do to regain your composure—or at least the appearance of it—in order to maintain credibility, retain your faculties, and positively handle the situation. All together, these five tiny shifts take about 8-10 seconds to perform. Yet they make a dramatic difference in two important ways:

1) They change the way you look and sound. Others will see you as more competent, capable, and credible. You will sound less apprehensive and more professional. You will come across as neutral—neither threatening nor defensive—so others will feel more safe in your presence. Even when you’ve been thrown for a loop, do these things and you can present yourself as a trustworthy leader.

2) They change the way you feel. Because these tips are physical, they get you out of your head and into your body, into the present moment. They interrupt your natural fight-flight-or-freeze tendency and get you back into “taking care of business” mode. You will feel more grounded, more confident, and more clear-headed—exactly what you need when you’re trying to regain composure!

Here are the five steps to regain composure:


1) Straighten up. 

Whether you are seated or standing, access an erect, confident, business-like posture. This makes you look more confident and present. With straight posture, your weight is automatically evenly distributed over both feet or sits bones. This sends the message—to yourself and others—that you are grounded and no longer off balance. It can also affect your hormones to make you feel more confident. Whether you find yourself shrinking back or puffing out, come back to a neutral, upright center position.


2) Note your emotions.

Whatever you’re feeling at the moment, give it a name. Surprised? Angry? Hurt? Incredulous? (I have named this emotion “Are You Kidding Me!?”) Once you acknowledge your feeling(s), you can deal with them. It might be appropriate to share your emotional response; but most of the time, it’s best to set the feeling aside and process it later. If you make the conscious choice to do that, and follow through when you have the space and time, it’s much easier to act purposefully in the moment. You can choose how you want to present yourself instead of reacting to whatever feeling has popped up. Feelings are transitory. You do want to acknowledge and process them, but don’t let emotions determine your actions and reactions.


3) Release tension.

Along with letting go of your emotions (for the moment), let go of stiffness and tension. The more smooth and fluid your movements, the more calm and competent you appear. Muscle tension is a sign of stress: By releasing the tension in your body, you demonstrate to others that you can handle the present situation. You’ll also think more clearly, act more quickly (with less clumsiness!)… and get fewer headaches! Bring your attention briefly to your body, in order to get it working for you instead of against you.


4) Claim space.

Turn your focus outward. Now that you’ve acknowledged your emotions and your body, expand your awareness beyond yourself. Using peripheral vision, take in all the space that your current situation requires—the people, the room, perhaps even space beyond the room. Fill that space with your attention and expand your body language to encompass it. This action calms and grounds you, includes others, and creates safety.


5) Take a full deep breath.

Okay, I misled you when I said there were five steps. The previous four steps take place one after another while you take this full deep breath.

As you inhale, 1) straighten up and 2) note your emotions. As you exhale, set those emotions aside, 3) release tension, and 4) claim space. It all happens in the span of one, full, deep, long breath, about 8-10 seconds. With the inhale you gather, with the exhale you release. With the inhale you nourish yourself, with the exhale you prepare for action.

You can repeat the whole process as many times as necessary to regain your composure. With practice, you will find yourself coming back to a calm center right away.

Once you’ve taken your full deep breath, you can act and speak. Taking that breath alters the timbre of your voice—instead of sounding anxious or edgy, it sounds warm, smooth, and calm. Now you can say what needs to be said in a way that others can hear.


With these five steps, my client changed the tenor of her interactions with her new boss. In a single meeting, she calmly and assertively stated her experience, her position, and her needs. Her boss sat up and listened! While their relationship is still a work-in-progress, my client was able to look and feel like the capable leader she knew that she was and earn some respect from a difficult supervisor.

Whether it’s an ongoing relationship or a one-time blip on the radar, the unexpected can and will knock you off balance at some point. When you need to regain your composure, practice taking one deep breath and using it to ground yourself and release feelings and tension. In one smooth motion, you can present yourself with grace and poise regardless of what’s going on around you.


Change your communication, change your life.

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