Leaders under pressure lose eye contact and speak faster

24 January 2020 Consultancy.uk 3 min. read
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Workers wondering if their boss might be failing to keep them in the picture about the future of their company would do well to pay attention to their senior manager’s body language, according to a new report. Leaders who find themselves in stressful situations struggle to maintain eye contact, tend to slouch, and find it hard to speak slowly.

Over the last four years, flagging consumer confidence has been dented by stagnating pay, while the price of many products and services has been hit by inflation, thanks to rising import prices relating to the ailing pound. While increasingly high employment has helped to mitigate some of this impact, the impending culmination of Brexit threatens to further shunt the economy toward recession – suggesting that the number of insolvencies may well spiral further upward over the coming 12 months.

This is placing huge amounts of pressure on business leaders and employees alike. Bosses are feeling the strain as they struggle to keep their firms afloat, while staff often find themselves in the dark about company finances – with many workers first hearing their company is insolvent when they turn up to work, only to find locked doors and a note from administrators.

What do leaders struggle with most when feeling tense and under stress

According to a new study of 1,000 workplaces by the commercial arm of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, RADA Business, 81% of senior leaders said they were often placed in situations where they found it difficult to remain calm and clear-headed. At the same time, 37% of senior managers, directors and C-Suite said that high-pressure scenarios made it harder to prepare and express their thoughts – exposing part of why important information on the future of a business often fails to make it to front-line staff.

RADA’s study found that there were a number of ways in which senior managers exhibit being in this position. Body language is a key indicator that bosses show when they are feeling strain, and RADA’s researchers said that 30% of managers in such a position struggle to maintain eye contact, while a quarter suffer from slouching and in over one-fifth of cases they physically shake.

Stress can also manifest itself in speaking patterns, according to the study. Around 26% of senior managers said they struggled to speak slowly when stressed and, similarly, 23% said they often forgot to pause when speaking. Clear and calm communication with workers becomes increasingly difficult due to these factors.

Commenting on the findings, Rachel Griffiths, Client Director at RADA Business, said, “Maintaining leadership performance through times of uncertainty demands a greater need to remain present, to align your physical, emotional and intellectual state... Under pressure, leaders tend to focus on the content of what they’re saying, losing their personal connection with others, as well as an awareness of how they’re coming across. In the eyes of their audience, they can lose credibility by speeding up their breathing and appearing tense, with no vocal presence – showing a lack of confidence."