You can’t control what happens to you. And, you can’t control how other people react to what happens. The only thing within your control is your reaction to what happens to you.
These words represent one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my life. Most of the time, this lesson just operates in the background of my mind. I don’t recite the words daily because it’s become part of how I view the world. A majority of the time, I fail to remember that this is a lesson that I once had to learn. But, then there are days when I am reminded of how powerful these words truly are.
Yesterday, I spent the afternoon on lockdown in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport as tornadoes invaded the area. For those who haven’t seen the news, some really nasty storms ravaged the areas around the airport during the late afternoon hours yesterday. The airport itself was in a tornado warning for most of the afternoon. And for those of you who aren’t in tornado country, a tornado warning means that a tornado is formed somewhere in the immediate area. Tornado warnings mean imminent danger.
Fortunately for me and the thousands of other people who were on lockdown with me in the airport yesterday, we were lucky that the tornadoes spared us. I was and am thankful for that. Despite spending a lot more time traveling yesterday than planned, I made it hope safely to my family last night. All’s well that ends well for me. Sadly, not everyone in Dallas and Fort Worth was so fortunate and my heart goes out to them.
As the afternoon was unfolding, it was interesting to watch how different people reacted to the scenario that was playing out, first the threat of tornadoes and then the reality of cancelled flights. When they announced the tornado warning, my senses spiked because I have always had a healthy respect and fear of tornadoes. Imagines of the aftermath of the St. Louis airport after a tornado a few years ago moved into my consciousness. I wasn’t panicked, but I was motivated to find a place to weather this storm that was protected from flying glass. People around me reacted in any number of different ways. Some seemed oblivious to the potential danger. Others were legitimately frightened.
To make matters worse, it was almost impossible to get any information about what was happening. The airport would make occasional announcements that I couldn’t hear, but was told that they essentially were telling us to stay away from the windows. Most people started making phone calls. I got a text from my friend asking if I was still in Dallas and suggesting that “I get down on a knee or something.” The absence of information made it hard on people and it fueled the fear and tension. People weren’t sure how serious the situation was. Or how scared they should be.
It was an interesting experience to study how people react to change and perceived crisis. There were some observations I took away that I think are pertinent to managing change within our organizations.
- Every person is going to react to change and/or crisis differently ranging from curious to paralyzing fear. We have to help manage that entire range of emotions.
- In crisis, people look for someone to lead them to safety. When no leader is visible, chaos ensues.
- In the lack of information about what’s happening, people do two things. First, they will assume the worst. Second, they will call someone else to for information and opinion about what’s happening to them.
- A lot of people will not act in their own best interests or safety, so they need to be coerced into doing so at times.
- Effective communication is critical in times of crisis and chaos. But, you have to prepare for and create these channels of communication long before you actually need them. Once a crisis hits, it’s too late.