How to Stay Cool in a Crisis
I enjoy finding ways to accomplish things at work that come from articles that have nothing to do with work—or at least work as we know it.
That was the case with this article by a dogsledding expert. The author, Blair Braverman, aspired to a dogsled run that was free of crises and calamities. For example, one crisis she experienced was the sled breaking in half with 14 huskies attached to it! Other things that have gone wrong on dogsled runs included blizzards, dogs getting stuck in a river, and tangling with sheep—all, mind you, in the wilderness in subzero temperatures.
Then one day, Braverman noticed that she was having crisis-free runs. Upon reflection, she realized that it wasn’t that she hadn’t had any crises to face; she had started seeing them as normal and inevitable. Every problem, she came to realize, has a solution.
Accordingly, her first suggestion for staying calm in the midst of a seemingly insoluble problem is to accept that there’s always a solution. If you tell yourself that you’re trapped, you’ll indeed be trapped. Believing there’s a solution, whether on the ice or in the desk-bound world, provides the mindset to begin to find that solution.
Another of her observations is that if you don’t have something, you don’t need it. How common it is in the organizational world to bemoan a lack of funding, resources, time, or support? Braverman concedes that it’s not strictly true that you don’t need these things (whatever they are), but rather that by reframing the problem in terms of what you do have, you’ll be able to avoid wishful thinking and focus on reality. That seems like good advice, especially in our current climate: Deal with what you have, not what you wish you had!
Braverman also suggests that it’s important to learn from what didn’t happen—or, more broadly, to reflect on and learn from the experience. Whether via a full-fledged retrospective or a brief brainstorm, once a crisis has been resolved, the goal should be to learn from it so that you can do better next time.
Other things can also help stay cool under pressure. For example, recognize panic signals so that you can consciously choose how to respond. When problems strike or you begin to feel overwhelmed, deliberately slow your breathing and breathe deeply to get more oxygen into your bloodstream, which will help counteract the fight-or-flight reaction.
Finally, remember your resilience by recalling stressful situations that you’ve handled well in the past.
No doubt, Braverman now routinely does all these things when out speeding along on the ice. But these strategies can also help us deal with more common crises in our everyday work.