I remember the first time an attorney called with news of a pending lawsuit. My first reaction was anything but calm. It happens to everyone in business. No matter what type of business, we will all encounter a crisis. It comes out of nowhere: an accident, a breakdown, a lawsuit. The immediate panic is overwhelming, followed quickly by feelings of despair and helplessness. And a need to do something.

Before you respond, learn how to stay calm in a crisis. It can make all the difference in the outcome, no matter what the cause.

  1. Stop, look, and listen. Resist the temptation to react or retaliate. Take a few seconds to evaluate. You need to determine the full scope of the situation before proceeding. (Of course, a sudden or physical threat, such as a fire or a colleague's heart attack, require immediate action.)
  2. Who, what, when, where, and how. Think like a news reporter: Get as much data as possible. Delegate responsibilities to get the job accomplished as quickly as possible. Depending on the crisis, a public announcement or response may be expected, so time is critical.
  3. Gather your team. You'll need people who can stay focused and positive. No naysayers or people who are negative. Now you're able to analyze the problem, and begin to get answers and solutions. How you handle the crisis will impact your company brand. There have been companies that have actually benefited from immediate and adept action.
  4. Communication is key. Don't stall on keeping stakeholders informed; your company reputation depends on clear and timely responsiveness. A lack of communication only increases anxiety and damages the business. Honesty is essential. Never, ever lie or mislead.
  5. Take care of yourself. This goes for those directly involved, as well. Even a short break or time away allows people to clear their heads and see their families. Eat well and avoid excess caffeine or alcohol. Try to get adequate rest.
  6. Seek advice from mentors and trusted colleagues. People who know you well can serve as sounding boards. They may also have a fresh perspective that you hadn't considered. Sometimes, they will have had similar experiences and can help you strategize.
  7. Conduct a post-crisis debriefing. After the situation has been resolved, do an extensive study. Ask a quality expert to help you with a "root cause analysis" to fully dissect what happened and what can be done to prevent a re-occurrence.
  8. Develop a crisis plan. If your business doesn't have a plan for handling a crisis, consider crafting one. It can cover who takes charge of public communication; how to direct calls or questions to key staff; how to report a potential crisis; and how to conduct an investigation. A proactive policy can reduce chaos and confusion.

When an unexpected event threatens your business, don't panic. Step forward and face it, even learning some lessons that can strengthen your team and your company.

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