Stop. Think. And breathe before you proceed. That's what I suggest we all do during those times when we are confronted by an unpleasant reality from which we can't escape, delay or ignore. While the feeling of being in such a vulnerable position is unsettling, at times, we must resist the urge to simply react in order to do something... anything... that will distance ourselves from the discomfort or uncertainty that is enveloping us. It's easy to simply react to the circumstances without truly thinking things through. What we don't realize though is that what may seem like the best course of action at first is probably not the best one for us to take. In the long term, such actions could be inviting more trouble into our lives. That's why I encourage that your first step for dealing with any scandal or crisis is to simply: Stop. Think. And breathe before you proceed.
The fact is that sometimes we have to let go of trying to fix a situation and instead just own up to the reality of it—even if that reality, simply put, sucks. Only then can you decide on a proper course of action. Instead of running from the facts or trying to change them, we just have to accept what is and sit with what that means for us. This advice may seem counterintuitive coming from a crisis manager like myself, but think about it for a moment. Have there ever been times in your life where panic caused you to act irrationally or irresponsibly? Have you ever been in a situation where you made things worse because you reacted without thinking? Were you so eager to resolve a problem before you had all the necessary information to offer up a solution in the proper context? Or, have you found yourself trying to get yourself out of a situation by lying to someone, manipulating the truth or covering up a mistake? In the end, all these responses may have actually created more problems for you than they solved.
In this episode, several of the characters are at a crossroads and must make potentially life changing decisions when confronted with a crisis. Quinn's past is catching up with her at the worst possible moment and in a bid to solve her current predicament, the associates are asked to put their careers on the line. The President, at the center of another scandal, finds himself questioning the integrity of those closest to him (including Olivia) as they come up with a less than honorable plan to save his presidency. Billy Chambers, The VP's Chief of Staff, having committed a horrific act of impulsive violence, continues his downward spiral in a very deliberate, but ill-conceived manner. He is a loose cannon, who at this point, has little else to lose. For these characters, the world is spinning out of control and they are desperately seeking a sense of equilibrium. However their reactive solutions to the scandals at-hand may have some far reaching consequences for them in the future.
At some point, you are going to be in a situation in which the future course of events will either be made better or worse by how you proceed. When confronted by a crisis, your instinct to simply react to it needs to be tempered with a consideration for the long term consequences of your conduct. Depending on the circumstances, sometimes you cannot (and should not) involve yourself in fixing a situation. This is especially true when it involves cleaning up someone else's mess. Depending on the circumstances, sometimes, you have to realize that you cannot (and should not) simply aim to erase your mistakes. Instead you have to own up to them, learn from them and accept the consequences from them. In the long-run that is the only hope for true change. Depending on the circumstances, sometimes, you cannot (and should not) avoid the discomfort that crisis can bring. This is because a crisis can be a signal to us that we are moving too fast, that our priorities are out-of-whack and that we are taking on too much for which we are not prepared. All these situations lead to you being controlled by the crisis as opposed to you being in control of the crisis. When you are being controlled by a crisis you are:
1.) Manipulating events to accomplish what you want at any cost
2.) Reacting to events based on pure heightened emotion instead of reason and/or
3.) Failing to give yourself time to process what is happening so that you are able to see the whole picture.
When you are controlling a crisis, you:
1.) Realize that your actions do not exist in a vacuum and that their consequences extend beyond the immediate circumstances
2.) Come to terms with how you got to where you are so that you don't end up in the same position again
3.) Think proactively not reactively and
4.) Understand that the right solution might not yield the preferred outcome but may be the one you must accept as a result of the circumstances.
We discussed several ways to avoid crisis over the last few weeks but the fact is that sometimes crises are unavoidable. There is no blueprint to dealing with a crisis, but before you begin to "gladiate", I urge you to first follow the simple mantra that was mentioned at the beginning of this post. You will find that no matter how difficult the situation is, you will have more control over it if you just Stop. Think and breathe before you proceed. The road ahead may be rocky and uncertain, but at least you won't be setting yourself up for more trouble ahead and making an already bad situation worse.
How do you approach crisis when it unexpectedly shows up at your door? If you want to learn how to better gauge your crisis handling potential, head over to my Facebook Page and take the quiz: Will you control your crisis or will your crisis control you?
Judy A. Smith is the founder and President of Smith and Company, a leading strategic and crisis communications firm with offices in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles as well as a Co-Executive Producer of ABC's Scandal. You can follow her on Twitter (@JudySmith_) or "Like" her on Facebook, and you can get more information about managing personal and professional crisis situations by visiting her site, judysmith.com.