Are You Cool in a Crisis?

You can never truly know how you will react in a crisis situation until one actually happens.  However, we can plan and train ourselves mentally and physically to anticipate the type of stressful situations we might find ourselves in.

James Grinnell, an Associate Professor of Management at Merrimack College, has written an article entitled “During the Golden Hour of Crisis Will You Be Captain Cool or Captain Coward?” He begins by comparing the actions of Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger on US Airways flight 1549 with Captain Franceso Schettino aboard the Costa Concordia cruise ship. One is called a hero and the other a coward, but why such vastly different reactions in a crisis?

How we respond in a crisis can be influenced by many factors, including our personal beliefs and fears. Our bodies kick into high gear when we are in a stressful situation which can product the “fight-or-flight” response. As a result, our physical body undergoes changes including an increase in heart rate and blood pressure as adrenaline pours into the bloodstream.

Most often, people who are able to stay calm in a crisis are those who focus on what it is they need to do rather than what is happening to them. It is an outward focus that shifts attention away from the self to that of others around you.

A quick and effective response is an important aspect of crisis management. Situational awareness is an extremely important factor, and individuals who have it are more apt to respond correctly and effectively when faced with a crisis. Training can greatly increase situational awareness skills, as those who have been exposed to crisis situations are more likely to respond correctly when the real thing occurs.

Team building and good leadership skills are also extremely important. A leader should exhibit openness, honesty and a commitment to others in order to build the level of trust needed to take charge in an emergency.

Some guidelines suggested by the author to help mitigate negative crisis response:

  • Establish responsibility for managing the crisis ASAP and establish a decision-making process for dealing with the crisis.
  • Commit to making the response to crisis a team effort (to the extent feasible) and determine who will be involved in the crisis response team.
  • Develop a communications strategy clarifying what will be communicated and to whom.
  • Balance need for information with need for reassurance; don’t lie, play down the situation, or speculate.
  • Gather situational intelligence and be sure to adaptively align actions with emerging situational clarity.

To read the full article, visit:

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