Is it good to be “in the loop” during a crisis?
c) It depends
The correct answer is c, “It depends.” Certainly if you are talking about communications loops, it is a good thing; we will be exploring this at another time.
But when we are involved in change, there is another loop that we have to be careful to avoid: the urgency loop.
There is nothing that spurs us into action like an immediate crisis. Unfortunately, cortisol sets off the alarm, and our actions tend to be “fight or flight.” We’ve all witnessed, heard about (and maybe even perpetrated) a few or more such responses along the way…frenetic flurries of disconnected and incomplete activity; rants, whether at the person or situation we see as the cause of the crisis or those who are trying to be supportive of us; “jags,” “benders,” or “binges” (depending on your generation and substance of choice). When the first set of actions doesn’t seem to be taking root, another spins out, and another. It can be dizzying at best!
The kinds of crises that drive substantive changes in our lives aren’t addressed in minutes, days, or weeks. It can take months, or even years, to move through and reach the outcome we have been working toward. So, for me, knowing this–and being conscious of it–is my first step in addressing a crisis, whether caused by me or driven from the outside.
Don’t let yourself step into the urgent action loop!
Many years ago I learned a simple and effective tool; if my memory serves me, it was offered by Stephen Covey. Draw a simple four-cell matrix, two boxes high by two wide. I label the horizontal axis “Urgency” and the vertical axis “Importance.” Along each axis there are only two measures, “low” and “high.” As I begin to jot down “what I need to do,” I put each item into one of the four cells ranging from low urgency and low importance to high urgency and high importance.
The secret sauce: focus on importance, not urgency!
After all, if it is urgent, but has no importance, why attend to it when there are important things to be done? That is why reminding myself that a crisis isn’t resolved in a moment is so important; it helps me to avoid the impulse to “fight or flight.” I have found this technique effective for myself and others, whether it is the “crisis” of getting out a term paper, or the crisis of first receiving devastating personal news. And, it is something that doesn’t take training, or practice, or years of experience to apply.
PS: The matrix works great on any change, not just crises; it also can bring value to your day-to-day activities.
There is a better way to avoid getting dizzy…and even to avoid the loop of a crisis altogether. Check back next week! In the meantime, feel free to share any “quick tips” you have for addressing this challenge.