Translatable but Debatable – עמידה בלחצים (Pressureproofness)

by Mark L. Levinson

From a management course at Tel Aviv University, I learned that your subordinates should be seen as your clients:  clients for your management services.  You supply them with the proper conditions for doing their jobs.  So when I’m reading the want ads, I take it as an admission of failure when the requirements for a routine desk job include dealing with pressure: עמידה בלחץ or עמידה בלחצים.  (For what it’s worth, in Hebrew ads the plural — “pressures” — is about 50% more common than the singular.)  If management is doing its job supplying a proper work environment, pressure should not be noticed at the bottom of the hierarchy unless it’s the hierarchy of the emergency rescue forces.

When I see an ad that tells the applicant to expect pressure at the office, I take it to mean “We’ve had workers burn out, and since our methods can’t be at fault, it must be that we need tougher workers.”

There’s a cantankerous sign you can buy that says “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”  But when I went Googling for עמידה בלחץ I came upon three search pages — two in English, one in Hebrew — where it appeared that people had been looking for job descriptions that include pressure.  Maybe such people exist.

Google also turned up the phrase “when not under pressure,” and I imagined perhaps I had found an employer who wanted to be sure that on slow days the staff won’t just sit watching YouTube and let the work pile up.  But the webpage turned out to say “Manages self with same standards under pressure as when not under pressure.”  It seems nobody cares that much about what workers do on the slow days.

I was Googling because עמידה בלחץ should be easier to translate than it is.  The idea of עמידה  is that the pressure doesn’t affect you negatively.  But if the translation is literal — resistant to pressure, indifferent to pressure, withstanding pressure, impervious to pressure — it sounds as if the worker simply keeps plodding along without taking the pressure into account, rather than coping with it as necessary.  Imperturbable, unflappable, but stubbornly unhurried.  Or worse yet, if described as “resistant” to pressure or standing up to pressure, the worker may sound like somebody who reacts with resentful defiance.

What the employer wants is both equanimity and, when necessary, a spurt of productivity.  In English, the common solution is to refrain from describing the desired quality and to describe the desired activity instead:  “Works well under pressure” is most common.  I also found “You will need to work quickly and calmly when under pressure.”  Also “Ability to maintain professionalism under pressure,” “Works well with others under pressure” (good point; lashing out at others is all too natural), and “Capability to achieve results under pressure,” the last being required of candidates for the post of admissions consultant at Peking University, Beijing.  Maybe the pressure is from constant pestering about why if the city is now called Beijing, the university is still called Peking.

The phrase “tolerant of pressure” (or “tolerance for pressure”) has some currency, and I think it’s a good translation.  Google shows several jobs like that in the UK, America, South Africa, and Australia.  I have a feeling that “tolerance” here means more than just equanimity; it means that the pressure can be healthily absorbed. 

And the term “grace under pressure” is also out there, although less common than I’d expected.  It’s a phrase made popular by Hemingway in the late 1920s.  Maybe “grace” seems too literary or makes the worker sound unrealistically angelic. “Maintain a positive attitude while under pressure” (from an ad for pizza workers) may be a more down-to-earth phrasing. 

There’s a company that writes of “the capability to remain gracefully competent under pressure” but I’m not sure if I’d recommend them as writers to emulate.  After reading their profile I’m still not sure what they do.  “We leverage the unique strengths of corporations, governments, social sector organizations, educational institutions, and individuals to enhance the abilities of people and communities to solve complex problems and attain mutually beneficial goals.  With a quarter century of experience in more than 90 countries, our team is passionate and dedicated to navigating challenges and pinpointing purposeful global engagement opportunities for our clients and partners.”

Far be it from me to attempt any pressure, but it does make the page more interesting when people add comments at the end about the particular word or phrase discussed.  And suggestions for further words and phrases are always welcome at .

Mark L. Levinson

Born 1948 a few trolley stops from Boston, Massachusetts. Bachelor's degree from Harvard College. Moved to Israel in 1970. Worked and learned Hebrew on Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet. Moved to Haifa and worked teaching English to adults. Did similar work in the army. After discharge, turned to technical writing, initially for Elbit. Then promotional writing for Scitex, and more technical (and occasionally promotional) writing for Edunetics, Daisy Systems (later named Dazix, SEE Technologies, and Summit Design), Memco, and Gilian. Also translated from Hebrew to English, everything from business articles to fiction, filmscripts, and poetry. Served as local chapter president for the Society for Technical Communication, editor of several issues of local literary journals, occasional political columnist and book reviewer for the Jerusalem Post, and husband & father.