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  • Susan Fletcher, Ph.D.

How to Work Smarter in a Crisis

Confession time! Last month I left out some information about my Fox 4 TV segment on happiness. During the interview I got thrown off guard and had to keep Working in my own Smart Zone! I thought I would be presenting the top 10 happiest (and unhappiest) jobs based on a recent University of Chicago study, but Tim, the anchor man, had another set of bullet points on his script. Five seconds before the stage manager began counting, "5-4-3-2-1" Tim showed me the bullet points he was prepared to discuss. A deer in headlights is a good description of my face at that point. My mind shifted into crisis mode.

We all have times when we shift into crisis mode. It happens when your car won't start, a tough deadline at work gets pushed up, your company is about to lose a huge customer, an employee you're depending on quits or an OSHA inspector shows up unannounced. By staying in the Smart Zone you can get through a crisis mode and come out better for it. During a crisis our brain falls back on simple, sometimes primitive, responses and puts aside complex thought. All focus is on the urgent present crisis. Many say that the economy falls into this category. But a crisis can be small - it can be a slip up in a conversation or forgetting an important appointment. Or, it can just be when what you intend to say doesn't come out of your mouth the right way. Click here to see how this can happen. A crisis will bring to light shortcomings and will also help us prepare for future improvement. Once a crisis is over, our problem solving can turn a crisis into improved standards, improved conditions, improved safety and can be, overall, one of the best opportunities for improvement. Here's how to stay in the Smart Zone during a crisis and turn a crisis into an advantage.

  • Know your anchor. In other words, know your expertise. In my case, I was doing a TV segment in my field of expertise so technically no question should throw me off. When I was straight out of college I could get intimated by older, more experienced people. But as a therapist, I had to understand that this was my expertise. Even though I might not know as much as my patients knew about other things in life, I definitely knew more than they did about proper therapeutic treatments.

  • Make a wrong right. When a mistake is made, admit it instead of covering it up. Trust is built when you are honest and accept responsibility to make it right. Blaming others, not responding, and refusing to take responsibility create a lack of trust and discredits you. Everyone makes mistakes. It is how you respond when a mistake is made that makes the difference.

  • Don't kill the 10 Minute Oil Change Guy. Have you ever seen someone throwing a hissy fit at Minute Lube because his car isn't ready? I call this an exaggerated response. When we have too much stress our stress hormones kick in causing a small hassle to suddenly be overwhelming. Learn to recognize when your stress level is getting high and discipline yourself to eliminate it. You could exercise, go shopping, get more sleep, read a book, surf the internet, call a coworker or friend or leave the office for lunch.

  • Figure out what you are working for. A crisis heightens our awareness and brings to light what really matters to you, your company, and the services you provide. We learn what we are willing to fight for, who to say "No" to (click here to see my quote about when to say "No" to your boss), who we trust and who trusts us and what is valuable to us.

  • A continual crisis is abnormal. Some people seem to feed off a crisis almost like an adrenaline junkie. They may subconsciously create crises and chaos for themselves and those around them. People who grow up in chaotic surroundings, such as with an alcoholic parent, believe that crises are the norm. If a member of your team exhibits this behavior he/she might benefit from professional help. Click here to watch this CNN special report about people seeking professional counseling to help deal with the current economic crisis. Anxiety is something we can help you with in my clinical practice. Or click here for ways to find a psychologist outside of the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

  • Be solution oriented. When faced with a crisis don't focus on the problem by saying, "Why did this happen? Why did I make this mistake?" Instead use "how" and "what" statements like "How can we respond to this issue?" and "What can we do to minimize the damage from this situation?"

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