So you’ve got a Crisis, now what?

Increasingly I’ve been tempted to answer my phone with “You’ve got a crisis, how can I help?” As a result of helping sport organizations better manage the “things that are keeping you up at night” through the Risk Management Project we’ve been partnering on with the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport for over a decade, I’ve written this blog to share what I’ve come to know about managing crisis proactively. As Epictetus stated so wisely “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

I’ve discovered over the past 26 years of working in sport from playground to podium that there is an art to managing crisis. Once the foundational pieces are in place, or what we might call the science of managing crisis, the critical difference maker in how the situation is resolved is often impacted by the leader’s way of being, her willingness to ask for assistance, her ability to plan and anticipate possible scenarios, and her openness to looking at the situation from multiple perspectives.

In my recent webinar on this topic, I felt privileged to take a trip down memory lane as I recounted the many crises that I had to manage as a leader in sport or as a consultant working to support my clients when faced with the unknown. Time and again, I found myself remembering the importance of being able to pause so that I could reflect on the impact this situation was having on me, to identify my initial response, and then to determine what my next steps would be. Without first pressing the ‘pause’ button, I was more likely to react to the situation. When people react, it can seem defensive. Often it is because something has been triggered within us, and if we are unaware of our emotions, we react.

In our reactions, our emotions take a central role. There are often physiological indicators such as our stomach churning, the hair on our neck stands on end, our pulse quickens, our face flushes … we are in fight or flight mode. The downside to reacting is that we let our emotions drive our thought process, without intentionally being informed and guided by them. This in turn can further fuel the fire. Channeling our emotional intelligence in a way that is guided by purpose is something that can be learned through practice and increased awareness. Reacting to an urgent situation that requires pulling people from imminent danger is an important muscle to have. However, too often one reacts when the more appropriate option is to respond.

Responding requires different muscles. Responding requires thoughtfulness, a methodical approach and openness. It connects our heart to our head and allows for our instincts, or our ‘gut reactions’, to have some time and space to be heard. While responding might feel more passive in nature, it is fact more active, as it requires a series of steps to ensure the appropriate decision is made. For some; this involves time alone to reflect; for others researching options and being guided by established processes will allow them to respond more thoughtfully. For me, responding almost always includes soliciting the viewpoints of others to help me ‘see’ what I might not be able to. The point is that there are options available to create time and space to allow for a better, more informed decision. The starting point is always starting with self.

Here are a few quick tips to consider how to deal more effectively with a crisis in the future:

Step 1: Breathe

Take deep breaths until you feel your body relax. This can take time so don’t rush it.

Step 2: Awareness

As you breathe in and out, notice where you are holding the tension in your body. Bring attention and curiosity to it. By sending positive intention to the location in your body, you might start to feel less constricted. Your heart rate slows down. Your pulse returns to normal. Your breathing becomes easier.

Step 3: Explore options

As you are now calmer, and more aware of the emotions that underpin your decision-making, get curious about what your instinctive options are. What feels natural for you to move towards? What options might feel like the ones you want to avoid pursuing? Stay open and hold these without judgement.

Step 4: Connect with trusted others

Once you are ready, explore your situation with those you trust. Ask for their honest feedback and be open to receiving it. Ideally you solicit advice from those that think differently than you do. Weigh the pros and cons of each option then make a decision.

Step 5: Monitor your situation and learn from it

You can review the webinar for a process to help you better plan for, and manage a crisis. You can read books to support your learning in this area. And once you’ve dealt with the crisis, you can document what worked and what did not work.

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out at DBL@sportlaw.ca

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