Handling a Crisis – Part 2

As I’ve written before, it’s simply not possible to navigate your work and your life without experiencing a crisis or two. While it’s important to try and avoid them as much as possible, it’s even more important to cultivate your ability to minimize their impact.

Crises come in many different varieties and degrees of difficulty. Each one requires a smart, steady, and specific set of responses carefully attuned to the situation, the nature of the crisis, and your role.

There are, however, some general guidelines that will help you find and execute the best possible response, regardless of what crisis you are facing. I’ve already given you some, here. Now I’ll give you some others:

Settle Down

One of the things that often goes haywire when a crisis hits is your ability to function. That’s why we have descriptions like “a chicken without a head” or “hair on fire.” They refer to people who become so frazzled by the crisis they are unlikely to see what’s going on, recognize the dangers, formulate good responses, or make good decisions about what to do next.

If you want to be able to respond well to the next crisis you face, remember to take a few early moments to settle down:

  • Breathe. Get calm. Relax. Meditate. Mentally visit your “safe place.” Do whatever practice(s) you’ve been cultivating to help you restrain your emotions from overwhelming you.
  • Identify precisely what you are feeling. Are you angry? Worried? Fearful? Something else? You function better after you label your emotions and calmly observe yourself feeling them.
  • Engage your higher brain functions: Observation. Planning. Evaluating. Executing. Get these revved up, as they will be the tools that will most effectively help you navigate through the crisis.

Tee-Up Any Other People Involved

If you’re in a solo situation, this step has no relevance. But in most cases, a crisis will impact others as well as you, and these others can potentially bring to the table skills, knowledge, experience, and resources to help combat the problem.

But just like you, their first reactions will involve their raging emotions.  

That’s why before you can expect any help from other people, you will need to prime them – or help them prime themselves – for effective action. This involves:

  • Helping them settle their emotions, or at least offering support and praise as they settle their own.
  • Sharing information so they know everything you know about the burgeoning crisis, and you know everything they know about it, as well.
  • Offering explicit hope you will all get through this crisis together.
  • Gaining their commitment to provide their best efforts against the crisis.

All this sounds time consuming, but it need not take long. If you have any kind of solid working relationships with the other people involved, most of this can sometimes be accomplished with a few seconds of eye contact and quick words of mutual encouragement.

Focus on the Facts

In crisis situations, it’s easy to get carried away by unfounded fears or worries, and for rumors or inaccuracies to color what you think is happening and how you want to react. Unfortunately, crisis situations seem to generate lots of rumors, false reports, misleading inferences, and important unknowns.

That’s why in a crisis you must prioritize separating fact from both fiction and lack of information. If you’re working with others, an equal priority is helping everyone to operate from the same page of the playbook.

In the absence of verified information – which is often scarce in a crisis – it’s prudent to consider best guesses, past experience, and probabilities. It’s also helpful to seek useful outcomes from remedial actions that seem likely to produce good results in the widest possible range of situations.

Maintain Perspective

There’s a famous quotation from the Vietnam War (1968): “It became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it.” I’m not here to review or argue the merits of that war. I’m simply using the phrase to highlight the importance of maintaining a broad perspective on any and every crisis.

While the immediate objective during any crisis is to end the crisis situation, there’s a clear illogic in allowing the cure to be worse than the disease.

In practice, maintaining a broad perspective in a crisis is often difficult. In the midst of action, threats, and rapidly changing crisis situations, it becomes easy to continue a particular tactic or to focus intently on completing a particular plan without recognizing that:

  • The need for the tactic or plan has disappeared because the crisis situation has changed.
  • The original time required or costs involved to implement the tactic or plan has increased to the point where this now outweighs the benefits.
  • The possibility of completing the tactic or plan has disappeared, leading to a futile state of affairs that is more sensible to abandon than complete.

Remember, in a crisis, emotions run high and effective action is too often in short supply. That’s why it’s important to settle down, rally any helpers you may find on your side, and keep your eye on the ball. Otherwise, you may give the crisis extra opportunities to overwhelm you and lead to unnecessarily disastrous results.

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