By Tim Roberts, Kepner-Tregoe

Major incidents can be stressful, whether you are a company executive managing perceptions with customers and shareholders or technical staff trying to sort through the details and figure out how to restore operations to normal.  When you find yourself in this situation, here are 3 tips from the experts to help you to stay calm under pressure

  1. Visualize success

There have been countless studies over the years about the power of positive thinking to help you overcome adversity and maintain motivation and energy through difficult situations.  While those are all well and good, you probably shouldn’t be thinking about behavioral psychology and recounting motivational speakers in a crisis situation, so let’s talk practicalities instead. When you are under a lot of pressure, focus is key.  By visualizing success, you are declaring to yourself the destination you are trying to achieve (whether it is users giving an ‘all-clear’ signal or a customer shaking your hand saying ‘it looks like you have this situation under control’). 

Having a reference point of success enables you to focus out un-necessary distractions, filter and contextualize information and assess when you are moving in the right direction and when you are drifting off course.  Without a mental picture of what success looks like, how will you know when you’ve achieved it?  Will you know if you are making sufficient progress? Will you be able to identify if the situation suddenly worsens?  Declare your intention (to yourself) and you will be more likely to succeed both individually and in the leadership of others.

  1. Break it down

Even the most complex problems can be broken down into simple, manageable pieces. You have heard that “a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step”, but the wisdom of this statement isn’t just to start moving, it is that whatever your goal may be, you are only able to pursue it one step at a time.  In a major incident situation, the path you need to take to achieve success may not be clearly visible, and it may have some twists and turns that you don’t expect.  But if you break it down into simple steps, you will be able to accomplish them one at a time and begin making progress towards the goal.

Being practical again, major incidents are made up of a series of events, situations, environments and actions, strung together in a series of cause and effect relationships.  As you break the incidents down, you will unearth insights that will help you understand how and why the incident occurred and identify what needs to be done to correct the problem and prevent it from happening again.  The steps to understanding and the steps to action will form your path to success.

  1. Make a plan

It is very rare for a major incident or any crisis situation in business to impact only one person. It is critical to have a plan of action (even if it is only in your mind) that is comprised of the problem-solving steps that you’ve identified and be able to show how success can be achieved.  Whether your responsibility is instilling confidence in others or putting the pieces of your operations back together, a plan provides a reference of where you are and what comes next. Without a plan, there will be times that you will find your mind and/or activities wandering – unclear if you are moving closer to your goal or farther away.  This can lead to frustration, productivity loss, and potentially taking actions that make the situation worse.

Taking part in major incidents can be tough.  Your knowledge, experience and skills will be put to the test.  The key is staying calm under pressure – visualize success, break it down into manageable pieces and make a plan to get there one step at a time.