Five steps for keeping calm in a crisis

2015-04-28 09.29.50The best laid schemes o’ mice and men ….

I was house sitting my parents’ home recently while builders ripped out storm-damaged ceilings, replaced them and repainted.

Fortunately, I have an ‘office in a bag’ and can work just about anywhere, so I babysat the house while vacillating between working and watching others work. But then we discovered that the geyser had burst and had to be replaced before the new ceilings went up; there was a medical emergency that involved rushing to the doctor, and there were a few other odds and ends, all of which ramped up the excitement somewhat.

How do you manage to ‘keep your head when all about you are losing theirs’, as Kipling said?

The reality is that many interruptions are not really interruptions but part of the fabric of our day. Depending on our work, interruptions are our job, or they form part of it. Some of us need to plan for the unknown and unexpected in every schedule; others may only need a little flexibility. The problems occur when we cram in as much as we can hoping that today will not be the day of chaos.

Let me suggest five steps for keeping your head:

1. Build in some flexibility.
If you plan meeting after meeting with no gaps, you will not have time to reflect on what was decided at the first meeting or prepare your input for the next one. The more senior your position, the more important it is to reflect and prepare. Allow yourself the space to do both.

2. Take a deep breath.
When faced with a crisis, it is easy to fall to pieces and do nothing or to jump in and do everything at once. Stop. Breathe. Drop your shoulders. Think.

3. Plan your approach.
With a medical emergency, there is no time to plan. You get in your car and go. But, as Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, ‘If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d take four to sharpen my axe.’

How much time do you have? Assess what has to be done and set some priorities. You may want to finish off one thing before you start the next, but a quick look at what is involved in the next item may allow you to make a phone call or two and get the ball rolling while you finish off here.

4. Stay humble
Our emergencies often break into the routines of others. Getting the geyser fixed quickly meant rushing the body corporate and the insurance company and chasing a plumber – my emergency had become theirs. The medical emergency meant squeezing into the doctor’s busy schedule – our emergency had become his.

It is one thing to give people work, but creating chaos for them is another matter. How can we make it easy for others to do great work, even while breathing down their necks? One way is to acknowledge that this is your emergency and ask for their help.

I took a list of four plumbers to work through until I found one who could fit me in. That took some pressure off the phone calls. The doctor wasn’t so lucky, but I did give him the option of our going to the hospital or to the rooms. He chose the rooms. My emergency had become his, but he still had a measure of control.

5. Show appreciation
Always show appreciation. Especially when someone has gone out of their way for you. You may need them again. And the best way to ensure they are ready for you next time is to be someone they remember for all the right reasons.

How do you keep your head? Tell us your secret in the comments below.

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Ian Webster

From Methodist minister to Customer Relations manager in a computer bureau to HR Manager in a newspaper printing and publishing company. Now focussing on training and developing people and HR & people-management consulting.

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