How to Stay Calm During a Crisis
It’s called a crisis for a reason. It’s a time of tension — no walk in the park. But, for the people tasked with responding to that crisis, including to the press and other audiences, it’s also a time to stay calm. That’s not easy to do. And yet, keeping low-key may mean the difference between a successful and a disastrous crisis response. Here are some tips.
Remember that you’re on the crisis communications team because of your ability to stay calm as the bricks are flying. You’ve been trained in your organization’s crisis plan and you know your assignments. Let the others on the team do their jobs. There are important decisions to make (even within each task). Panicking will only lead to wrong decisions (the word crisis comes from the Greek word for decision).
Timothy Nunez, a trauma surgeon, recently said on a Nashville Public Radio show (“How Crisis Responders Keep Calm Under Pressure”) that people expect him to be “an adrenalin junkie,” but the opposite is the case. “We want to be calm as can be,” he said. “Because getting worked up helps nothing.”
Some clichés apply. If things are getting especially tense (if the crisis team is loudly disagreeing about how to proceed), take a deep breath. Stay positive. Remember that panic is contagious.
We want to be calm as can be. Because getting worked up helps nothing.
— trauma surgeon Timothy Nunez
Try to remain unemotional. Many crises have emotional aspects, but they should be downplayed as much as possible. You can reflect on the emotional nature of the crisis after it’s over. Emily Siner, the host of the Nashville Public Radio show, talked about how surprised she was at being “eerily emotionless” when covering tragic stories such as a fire and a bus crash. A panelist, Metropolitan Nashville Police Department Chaplain James Duke, replied, “Most of the time, we numb ourselves out to take care of the business at hand.”
Finally, try to keep a sense of humor. While the crisis itself shouldn’t be laughed about (especially if it’s a tragedy — leave the gallows humor to the journalists), no one would blame the team for taking laugh breaks here and there just to stay sane. Again, the time for confronting the crisis emotionally comes later.
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