Thursday, July 19, 2012

Crisis Management Lessons from a 5 Year Old

My 3 year old is the king of tantrums.  He is always finding new creative, and destructive, ways of expressing his displeasure with something.  His latest technique is finding an open door and slamming it shut with all his might.  He’s surprisingly strong for a toddler.  Last weekend his ire was raised at the thought of bedtime and my poor 5 year old was caught in the cross fire when the doorway he was standing in became the target for a tantrum.  As a result, the door was slammed on his little finger causing instant hysterics (mostly from the boy, and just a little from daddy). 

My first reaction to the crying was to comfort him and assume he was being overdramatic about it, but after further inspection his finger did look to be seriously injured and the pain very real.  After getting him some Tylenol and ice, we debated for the next 15 minutes on whether to take him to the urgent care or not.   We didn’t know if it was broken or not, or even how to tell when all he could tell us was that it hurt.  We decided to let him stay up and watch cartoons in mommy’s room and watch to see if it became too swollen or changed colors dramatically.  In the end, it was fine by the next day, just a little bruised.  So a trip to the urgent care would have been a waste.

So, why am I reciting this story on a blog about in house practice?  (Other than to have something to blackmail my boys with when they’re teenagers, that is.)  Because this series of events can stand in for any mini crisis you have at work.  A lot of the time when someone comes running into your office with a “sky is falling” scenario, it’s really just drama.  You have to inspect the issue more thoroughly before you know if there is any real reason to go into crisis mode or if wait and see is a better approach.   And sometimes, the initial analysis doesn’t give you a clear answer.  It could be something dreadful, or it could just be a minor issue that doesn’t merit a ton of attention.  You can’t always tell at first glance, so you have to triage the immediate symptoms and do a fuller assessment once more data can be gathered.  A lot of this is outside of your control. 

The important thing for in house counsel to do in these situations is to be the calming influence in the room.  You have to make sure that your business partner knows that you are taking his matter seriously, but don’t feed into the hysterics.  You have to provide the comforting reassurance that you are looking into it, that something is being done.  At the same time, you have to stay steady so that any anxiety you may have about the issue doesn’t fuel the fire further.  If it is troubling, you have to avoid giving the impression that the sky really is falling.  It’s a fine line to walk, and one that I fall off of regularly.  So the next time a crisis shows up on your door, remember Z and get the equivalent of Tylenol, ice and cartoons.   

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