Sunday, June 26, 2011

How Do You Respond in a Crisis?

I’m reminded of the announcement from an airline that said, “in the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, masks will descend from the ceiling. Stop screaming, grab the mask, and pull it over your face. If you have a small child travelling with you, secure your mask before assisting with theirs. If you are travelling with more than one small child, pick your favourite."

The word Crisis is derived via Latin from the Greek root definition, meaning a decision, a choice, a turning point for good or bad. It should strictly refer to a moment rather than a continuing process, so that uses such as a prolonged crisis are strictly speaking self-contradictory. However, a word as useful as crisis will not allow itself to be strait-jacketed in this way, and many examples of the disputed use will be found.

Crisis is often used with a defining word, either an adjective or an attributive noun as in economic crisis, energy crisis, financial crisis, food crisis, hostage crisis, identity crisis, midlife crisis, refugee crisis, etc.

It’s interesting that the Chinese word for crisis is written by joining two ideograms together. When these ideograms, are presented separately they stand for two different ideas or concepts. The first ideogram stands for danger and the second ideogram stands for opportunity.

What’s also interesting about the word crisis is that it relates to an unstable condition, as in political, social, or economic affairs, involving an impending abrupt or decisive change; and is usually linked with an emotionally stressful event or traumatic change in a person's life.

We, as individuals, will respond to a crisis in many different ways, as a ‘crisis’ is felt on a personal level. Even a ‘global crisis’ effects people in different ways, so the immediate response from individuals will be based on their perception about the ‘crisis’ (in respect of what they feel is at stake) and their ‘skills’ in dealing with it.

The two ideograms for the Chinese word for crisis give us a good indication of an effective approach to dealing with a crisis – first to appreciate the danger, but second to see the opportunity.

A crisis has the ability to bring out the best and worst in people (at all levels of an organisation). Some people simply cannot handle certain crises and will turn and run for the hills. This is often due to panicking about the perceived outcome from the crisis and its implications on the individual; and is also due to the person not having the skills to deal with the crisis in a timely and efficient way. These are the people that work on the principle that “eagles may sore, but weasels never get sucked into an airliners engine intake.”

In any crisis, business or personal, the most important thing is to remain calm. You must be strong enough to appear calm, regardless of how you might feel inside.

Effective leaders give inspiration in a crisis through their controlled approach, bringing calm to almost any crisis situation. They attract followers by having a confident plan of how to deal with the crisis and communicate this calmly and clearly to the whole organisation. This gives the organisation a confidence that the crisis will be averted and things will either return to normal or, in fact, get better.

Effective leaders vary their behaviour in a crisis, reacting to individual situations and use their words sparingly but clearly throughout the crisis situation. In fact maybe one of the true tests of an effective leader – is how they deal with a crisis – and how their organisation follows them through the crisis and comes out the other side.

In conclusion we should always remember that: Conflict builds character. Crisis defines it.


Crisis: Definition, Synonyms from Found on 26th June 2011 at []

Wilken, T. (2001). Crisis: Danger and Opportunity. Uncommon Sense Library, Volume IV.

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