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I am quite confident at work and with the work I do, and have a good relationship with my boss in the office. But when it comes to one-on-one meetings in which I present my plans and strategies for the next project, I stammer while speaking.

I do not have this problem with my boss in normal day-to-day communication. When it is time for one-on-one meetings, I know that I am prepared and I am confident in my thoughts, but I find it difficult to make eye contact and explain what I have planned.

How can I overcome this problem?

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7 Answers 7

The only way to truly overcome fear is with practice. I occasionally play the organ at church. A lot of people tell me they could never do such a thing because it would scare them to death, and ask how I manage it. My response is that it did scare me to death every week for the first 3 years, but I persisted, and one day I realized I wasn't scared any more.

That being said, the best thing that helped my frame of mind in your situation is to realize that your boss' position over you is only administrative. It doesn't imply he's a superior person, or even better qualified to do your job than you. Think of him as a peer, and further than that, as someone who can't do his job without you.

You were chosen to present your plans to him because you are in a better position to formulate those plans than he is. You have the upper hand in your knowledge of the project details, and if he's a good manager he will defer to you. His only job is to make sure your plan lines up with the bigger picture of your company's goals, and to impart his experience to help your plan run smoothly. Don't take corrections personally, be enthusiastic about the superior plan you were able to come up with together.

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Have you tried getting practice with someone else? Grab a co-worker, and give him the same thoughts you'd give your boss. You may not even need the feedback from your coworker about the nature of your ideas... just the practice in translating them from living in your head to coming out of your mouth.

Conversely - a key for many public speakers (and even one on one can fit this) - is to understand the nature of adrenaline, take it into account and use your understanding of it to ride the wave. Take deep breaths, forcibly relax your body, sit in a comfortable but attentive posture - do everything possible to convince your body (not your mind) that there is nothing to be afraid of. It's not a logical thing, it's a visceral thing -so the answer is often not to think your way through it, but to use physical stuff - like breathing - to find your instinctive brain.

A friend of mine who taught some new class material for the first time described her nerves as "this material is still very precious to me - I don't know how it will be received or the impact it may have - and I want to protect it - so while I'm not nervous for myself, I'm protective of my fledging thoughts and how they will be received". That was about the best explanation of this type of adrenaline that I have ever heard.

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I can vouch for you, this fear is real. With my last boss, i had faced this.

Note, i had been a free lancer facing customer directly, had a significant team in various jobs and even before my boss joined this current company (in the start up days) - i have already established myself as a significant achiever. I had nothing to fear and i had never feared with any one! But with him? what's the issue?

What make us fear the client? the boss? a senior peer? or even a brat junior? The most important aspect is our ability communicate and put our point forward. Even if we are reasonably outspoken, fluent in the language you fear because you mostly loose the point. The person on the other hand (like facing lawyer) has some weird arguments which in most cases you are not prepared with answers - and right when you begin to loose - he(she) is right there to now put some decisions, actions and arguments right on the spot. You of course, don't get a chance to think about the answer and comeback and discuss. The matter is closed and pushed in your head! You kind of feel betrayed, lost, hurt and kind of giving up. For many having to eat non-sense from authority itself is insulting.

I might sound very dramatic - but essential point is you fear and loose confidence because you have realize that you loose consistently against him/her and they misuse that fact. And more you surrender, more you loose the confidence, subsequently more often you surrender. It's a vicious circle!

So what you do?

  1. Don't loose heart. Always try to catch up the agenda in the a prior so that you can think as much as possible from his/her point of view and pick some potential arguments.

  2. Try to check what is the point you are trying to drive. Sometime in an open meeting we go with free and open minded more to listen as the concern is raised. (this is how actually it should be) but you should also mentally be prepared as to what is the point/agenda you want to safeguard. For example, when you know you are talking about some project - you want to drive decision on some critical action to be taken before much worse can happen. You may be persuaded and pressurized but just don't compromise. Stick to that - refuse! Just refuse if you need to. Sir/Madam, i don't agree with this. If i need to acomplish this,i JUST cann't take this route! And don't buckle. Once you face it, you get it right.

  3. Face the problems on its head and be prepared to listen illogical and be prepared to drop logic. Sometime when you just don't want to compromise - when rational is dropped be prepared to refuse logic and not surrender just stick to your point.

  4. Talk to senior, peers and best to the boss of the boss about the matters. In many organizations that may not be welcome; but speak to someone whom you think you can trust and who you think is genuine. This will release your pressure and fear at least and if there is authority, situation can be handled better. BUT, don't complain about the person. Speak only your agenda - and explain why you disagree.

  5. Ask gentle advise from HR and maintain good repo. Sometimes they won't have any say in strategic decisions but as you work closely, you kind of feel comfort. They would turn gears when things go very bad.

  6. Last but most important - understand this is not your first job and nor will be last. Be prepared to walk out - be prepared to walk out of meeting, walk out of department or even from job. When you know he/she cannot ruin your life you feel much more confident!

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Something is making you more nervous in this situation than normal day=to=day conversation with your boss. You need to identify what that something is to come up with the best strategy for fixing the problem.

You say you know you are prepared but your actions speak otherwise even if you don't intend them to. So maybe changing exactly how you are prepared and how you do the presentation will help. For instance, are you going into the conversation with written notes? How about a Power Point presentation? If you present your plan using a formal presentation, you can spend a lot of the time looking at the screen and not the person which will help the eye contact problem. If you have written notes you know you won't forget something.

If is truly is not preparedness, then some other issues might be:

Your boss doesn't provide any signals that let you know if you are doing well or poorly. Therefore talking to him makes you feel uneasy since you can't tell how he is reacting. I had this problem when I was first in the work place and the trick is to ask him leading questions to get the feedback rather than relying on him to give it to you when it is not his natural style. You can also assume with these sorts of people that no news is good news. If you aren't getting bad feedback, assume you are doing well. Feeling that he is going to respond positively to what you have to say will make it easier to say it.

Another reason for this sort of nervousness is that you feel you are going to tell him some news he won't want to hear. So if you think the project plan you have will be unacceptable to the manger, decide why and think of reasons to mitigate the problem. For instance, it is harder to go to the boss with a problem than just to say hi. However, if you go to him with a problem and a proposed solution, then you will feel more confident and he will be happier than just finding out about a problem.

Another possibility is psychological. People who have been abused by authority in the past, tend to have difficulty speaking to authority figures later in life. Not being able to make eye contact is a possible sign of this. This is because the abused person doesn't internally have a basic level of trust that the non-abused person has. The best solution here is to seek treatment.

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Is there somebody else in the office that can help you? If they have experience working with same boss they may be able to provide guidance regarding your preparation and presentation.

Some managers have a style and personalty that makes this type of meeting difficult. The way they ask questions is misinterpreted as being disapproving. The manager may not even realize they are intimidating their employees.

The mentor can identify if this is a problem that everybody has. Also the process of having them review your presentation in advance can you the confidence you need.

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Practicing drama or music, or getting used to public speaking (for example by being active in a non-protit organization or a political movement), can be very good training for such stressful situations. It's well-known that there are two kinds of actors: those whose knees shake before a performance, and those who've learned to ignore the shaking.

Picturing the other person in their underwear is also said to boost your confidence by clearing any perception of superiority you may have about the other person. It doesn't work for everybody in every circumstance.

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May I'll some repeat points mentioned so far:

  • most probably behind your difficulty of one-to-one talk is fear;

  • you must analyze the sources of that fear;

  • we can very roughly classify them as "standard" and "extraordinary":

    standard sources of fear: the position of power of your boss, perceived as a threat: e.g. he could shout at you/ embarrass you in front of co-workers/ refuse a raise/ decrease you salary/ fire you/ etc; extraordinary sources of fear: some previous psychological trauma/ previous and unspoken conflict with your boss which put you in lower position/ some other unconscious source;

  • you must do something about the suspected causes of your fear; analysis alone is not of much good. For instance, you can overcome the "standard sources of fear" if you prepare for yourself a Plan B income stream. Then you would have the confidence to talk back to your boss regardless of the consequences on his side - because you would be no longer depending entirely on him for your financial stability, professional development and personal reputation.

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