Grace Under Pressure

What does it mean to have grace under pressure? Grace under pressure can mean several things to people, but to me, it means having a calm demeanor and an overall presence of mind in a stressful or highly demanding situation. My job as a trial/jury consultant is stressful. I often remark to people who are unfamiliar with what I do for a living that there is zero tolerance for errors, none of the attorneys who hire me are paying me to make a mistake, and people’s lives are in my hands every time I consult on a case. Providing advice to attorneys, all of whom are “big shots” at the top of their game, is not for the faint of heart! Often, during jury selection, I am positioned in a small conference room near the courtroom, surrounded by a crowd of attorneys and our mutual clients, where I am faced with a constant barrage of questions, such as “What do you think about Juror #39? I don’t like her, for some reason. Is there anything I can ask her to convince the judge to dismiss her for cause?”; or “I really like Juror #12 and I think he would be a good juror for my case. Do you really think I should use a peremptory strike to excuse him? Are you sure? What makes your opinion better than mine?”; etc. Although conducting mock trials and focus groups involve their own kinds of stress, including ensuring my employees perform their jobs properly (which is another source of stress for me), this is nothing compared to the stress involved in an actual trial, in which I play an important role in the outcome. Getting stuck in a traffic jam, being tired from waking up hours before my usual wake up time, sitting in a cold courtroom in an uncomfortable chair for far longer than I would like, and other minor inconveniences are to be expected. Learning to maintain a “poker face,” keeping one’s composure despite setbacks that cannot be prevented, and demonstrating to the clients that I am doing everything I can do to help them requires stamina, courage, and a personality type that truly indicates grace under pressure.

“Grace Under Pressure” is the title of the 10th album, a 1984 release, by RUSH.  The readers of these posts know that RUSH is my favorite band.  Though there is no song on the album entitled “grace under pressure,” the album had many references to being under pressure, especially in terms of the Cold War and world uncertainty.  These times are, perhaps, coming back into all of our minds in some ways.  However, in the context of our post, I am thinking of things at a more individual level.  How one handles pressure.  It could be the pressure of being somewhere on time, but stuck in a traffic jam.  It could be an equipment failure when photographing an important event, or, more likely for us, an equipment failure when conducting a mock trial.  In the 30+ years I’ve been involved in mock trials and focus groups, the technology has changed considerably and the people operating it have changed as well.  As much as we believe we have come up with tried and true methods and equipment, it was with much trial and error that we learned ways to do things.   Yet, we are still sometimes plagued with ghosts in the machines.  It is when these gremlins present themselves that our team has a chance to shine, or, over the years, for a few of them, to fail.  Melting under the pressure of either the clients, or the technology, is a recipe for disaster and usually an indication that is someone not cut out for our work.  We learned early on to ask people how they react to a crisis in the work place.  How do they handle problems?  How do they handle pressure?  I have, and I think Melissa has, been surprised at some of the responses.  Some people cannot think of having had a crisis to which to respond and tell us they do not know how they would handle one.  Their inexperience, or perhaps lack of awareness, is concerning, but maybe they were just lucky in life up to that point.  The most shocking response I remember is being told by someone who was working as a 911 dispatcher, that when there was a crisis, she went to the restroom in the police station and cried.  I could not imagine why she would have ever put herself in such a job if that was her response.  And, probably, that was why she was job hunting, although she was clearly not a fit for us. Rising to the occasion is a positive trait to have, all the better if “they” don’t see you sweat while getting the job done.  That’s grace under pressure.

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