Coping Well with Crises

If you’re never going to have another crisis or severe problem in your work or your life, you can skip this one.

The rest of us, however, can learn to fare better the next time we face a crisis or severe problem. The twin keys to success in difficult, fast-moving, problematic situations are first to prepare well, and then to respond effectively.

Here are some ideas to help you be more productive and successful in crises:

Preparation for Crisis

One never knows exactly when or where a crisis will occur. But for most of us, there’s usually one or more crises lurking just over the horizon. Some of them never strike us, but sometimes one will.

Fortunately, you can get set for the next crisis before it strikes.

Step 1: Get well organized.

If you think of a crisis as akin to a storm, you’ll realize it can do less damage and/or be easier to handle when your work and your life are running smoothly before it hits. This involves having as few loose ends, pending problems, or out-of-control elements as possible.

Then when the storm starts disrupting things, you’ll be able to give it your fullest attention, and you’ll have all your potentially-remedial resources readily available.

What’s more, when your work and your life are well organized, you’ll more quickly notice the earliest signs of the crisis beginning to create disruptions.

Step 2: Stop fearing uncertainty

Uncertainty is all around us, pretty much all the time. A big part of the harm from a crisis comes from magnifying this normal level of uncertainty. So it stands to reason that when you’re more comfortable with ambiguity, doubt, and indeterminacy, you’re better able to analyze and cope with the uncertainties your next crisis creates.

One way to become more comfortable with uncertainty is simply to practice boldly facing all the uncertainties you encounter in your normal work and life. It’s also helpful to understand and accept the inevitability of uncertainty, so it feels less upsetting and threatening when you encounter it.

Step 3: Look ahead and plan

Certain storms – like lightning strikes or tornadoes – are pretty much impossible to anticipate in detail. But even those are susceptible to some degree of advance planning.

By looking ahead to see what crises might befall you in the future, how likely each one may be, and how – at least in general – you could try to respond, you can gain significant time and energy advantages with regard to whatever crises might actually occur.

This is because it’s easier and generally more effective to put a crisis-response plan into effect when necessary than to start thinking, planning, and responding from scratch as a crisis bears down on you.

Response to a Crisis

It’s great to be prepared for a crisis. It’s even better to respond well once it’s upon you. A good response to a crisis involves the following:


A crisis generally creates immediate threats, problems, and disruptions. To cope effectively with these, it’s helpful to be operating at your best. That’s why some of your first priorities when facing a crisis are to stay calm, think clearly, and act decisively.

This involves managing your fears and other emotions. For example, when a literal storm creates physical damage and chaos, many people fall to pieces emotionally from the simple loss of control they’re experiencing, and from the overwhelming number of threats the storm poses. It can be the same during any other form of crisis.

Generally, you’ll respond better to a crisis if you can:

  • Practice your relaxation techniques to help you stay calm and think clearly,
  • Focus on taking quick, effective remedial and preventive actions, and
  • Ask for as much help as you can get.

Good Communication

Unless you’re entirely on your own, effective crisis response generally involves solid coordination among lots of people. This requires good communication, to help everyone know what’s going on, what to do next, and how their tasks and responsibilities fit into the larger overall crisis-response effort.

This is why it’s important during a crisis to devote a significant portion of your thinking and your actions toward keeping others “in the loop,” particularly:

  • What is the main goal at the moment,
  • What are you personally trying to do,
  • What should they be trying to do, and
  • How will all this effort help end the crisis.  

Part of your communication efforts should be directed at helping others to also stay calm, think clearly, and act decisively. One way to do this is by offering others encouragement, praise for what they’ve already accomplished, and a vote of confidence they’ll continue to perform well throughout the rest of the crisis.

Unfortunately, there’s at least one more crisis in the future for every one of us. While we’d like to avoid them, of course, it’s vital we do what we can to cope effectively when the next one strikes. The ideas I’ve presented here will help you lessen the fear of crisis, and improve any responses that events may call upon you to deliver.

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