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4 Ways to Handle a Crisis at Work

Work crises are normal; what's important is how you overcome them


My life has been full of significant crises. I was fired three times, moved four times as a young adult and kicked out of school. Today, I still manage to have what most would consider a successful career, as a corporate adviser, lecturer and author.

Work crises are normal: What’s important is how you decide to overcome them.

So how should you handle a crisis at work?

First, it helps to understand that a crisis can bring out the best or the worst in people. You can either rise to the occasion or get crushed by it. A good way to do the former is by using what’s known as contextual intelligence. That allows you to apply knowledge to real-world scenarios and situations. In other words, it is the proficiency of adapting — by applying knowledge and skills to different situations and environments in order to find a solution.

If you are a leader, an employee or even self-employed, when you have a work crisis, communication is everything. Employees, employers, clients and consumers want to feel like you can make the best possible decision to overcome any unfortunate circumstance in order to reach a favorable outcome. Most importantly, they want to feel like you have their best interest in mind. Additionally, people want someone who can communicate the crisis even if there may not be a solution (yet).

4 Ways to Handle a Crisis at Work

Try to follow these four simple guidelines when communicating and handling a crisis:

1. Communicate the crisis with all those involved, even if there isn’t a solution yet. You don’t need to wait until you have all the information at hand before you communicate the crisis.

Start by identifying the underlying factors that caused the situation to happen and address them. Then, apologize again to all involved (but if the crisis isn’t your fault, don’t take the blame, just apologize for any harm or inconvenience the situation may have caused others).

2. Communicate the potential resolution. State what you’re doing as an ongoing effort to right the wrong or correct the problem.  If you’re communicating with employees and stakeholders, an example would be, “The company is providing temporary housing for all employees in the affected area who do not currently have access to their homes.”

If you have to communicate a potential crisis to your employer, it is important to deliver the news in a way that increases the boss’ feeling of confidence in your competence to handle the crisis. That gives him or her a sense of control and trust that can actually deepen your working relationship together.

It’s important to communicate the issue or potential problem while also being completely honest about the cause, even if you are at fault. However, you can soften the blow by providing your employer with solutions to the problem, which, in turn, can demonstrate your ability to be a leader.

An example would be: “Is now a good time to talk?” If it is, then start by saying something like: “I have some bad news about XYZ account.”

Be prepared to give a concise response about the work that was done, the cause and the potential effects of the crisis. An example would be: “We’ve been working on the account for the past year and XYZ just informed us that they are not happy with the results of the campaign and have decided to pull the plug.”

That’s the situation.  Then you should also add the following: “I have a few thoughts on some possible solutions. Is that something you would like to hear about right now?”

3. Have a flexible, or growth, mindset. Having one (the belief that you are in control of your own ability and can learn and improve) is the key to success, finding solutions to fix the issue and preventing them from happening again.

4. Evaluate the situation. Follow up with all those potentially affected and see if they need additional resources, consoling or help getting through the crisis.

Handling a crisis properly involves telling the people who will or might be affected what they need to know and vice versa. A good way to overcome a crisis is to have loyal, competent people around you who can put things into perspective. You never know where the solution to a work crisis will come from.

Soulaima Gourani
By Soulaima Gourani
Soulaima Gourani is a lecturer, corporate adviser and author of three books: Ignite your Career, Take Control of Your Career and Courage to Success. In 2012, she was named one of the Young Global Leaders by World Economic Forum and chairwoman of the nonprofit Global Dignity.  In 2014, she was chosen as one of the "40 under 40" European young leaders. She was elected as a TED mentor in 2016. Gourani lives in Palo Alto, Calif.

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