In the “Eye of the Storm”
The McMillan Thesaurus comments that the eye of the storm is to be:
“in the middle of a difficult situation”
Synonyms: pressed, oppressed, deadlocked, stuck, beleaguered, embroiled, worse off, out of your depth, in deep trouble, up against something, a marked person and so on.
However, those of us, who have grown up in a cyclonic environment (including myself) know that being in the eye of the storm has a very different meaning. The centre of a cyclone is in fact, calm. The interesting thing is that when you experience this for the very first time, it is beyond eerie.
Preparing for a “Storm”
So, what do we do to prepare for a cyclonic event where I live? A = We plan for it. The Australian Red Cross uses KCOP to assist it and others in our communities to prepare for such an eventuality. In summary, the four key elements of this cyclone planning preparation framework are:
- Know – Understand the environment you are in e.g. extreme seasonal weather with dangerous outcomes.
- Connect – Identify who can help you i.e. emergency services, the local government and so on.
- Organise – Establish what is important and how to keep safe including drawing up checklist of key documents and making your home safe leading up to the expected event.
- Pack – Prepare what you need for afterwards (the recovery). This includes what items you need to pack and where you can stay post event?
What happens in The Eye Of The Storm?
Many of us have been in that very awkward situation, when suddenly, we have to be quick on our feet. We find ourselves dealing with an incident “out of the blue.” Does this sound familiar: your ears are ringing from too many protagonists all talking at once; you are being verbally abused – bashed left and right by the most distasteful comments; or perhaps even physically threatened? During the whole exchange your mind and body are in conflict: “do we fight or flight?”
With a cyclone, once you have hunkered down in your sheltered environment, you wait in anticipation for the storm to hit. You find yourself listening with focussed intent to the wind and rain, possibly even feeling these things as well. You hear or see trees come crashing down. Other items if not secured, will be blasted into oblivion. If that wasn’t enough, the slow buildup of rain over several days suddenly becomes a deluge that will cause water to flood an area very quickly, much faster than you can run or drive.
Then, all of a sudden, the cyclonic activity stops. This is the eye of the cyclone as it passes over the top of where you are for the next hour or two. The air is still, and very peaceful. Then, as the other side of the storm begins to pass over the top of you once more, you find yourself waiting and sitting tight (although you might be playing cards with your friends as we used to back then).
The thing is this: once you are in the eye of the storm, it’s the perfect time to re-evaluate where you are at and whether 😉 you need to make any adjustments. When facing a difficult moment, this means:
- Slowing things down;
- Taking a deep breath;
- Reminding yourself of your self worth;
- Seeking guidance or advice if need be (or if possible); and
- Adjusting your tactics accordingly.
Putting Your Plan Into Practice
In keeping the above in mind, is it possible to apply the KCOP principles to your personal situation and also apply how to be calm in the eye of the storm? I believe so. To help put KCOP and the “eye of the storm” in context, I have provided for you an outline of each element of the “plan” along with a number of scenarios including some key thoughts or considerations.
Know – For example, if you work in a political environment, you need to understand how the politics works. This includes identifying:
- Who the movers and shakers are;
- What drives their agenda;
- When they are most effective;
- Where their allegiances lie.
Similarly, you can apply the same process of discovery outlined above in the workplace (which, as we know can be very political): whether you work in a competitive work environment or a dysfunctional one. Maybe, this is what it’s like in your family? Or, perhaps when you are about to enter into a heated community meeting, a hostile press conference or even TV interview!
Just as importantly, remember to acknowledge the situation you will be, or are, in. This means you should have some level of understanding of where the potential threat is going to come from.
A good fun place to start understanding such a principle are tv shows such as Yes Minister, Utopia and Into The Ring.
Connect – In politics, at work, amongst voluntary organisations and community groups, during a natural disaster and the like – it’s all about understanding who can help you when times are tough. In other words, identify and connect with:
- Who will give you good advice and information;
- Those who are willing to help out; or
- Perhaps, even lend you an ear? Sometimes, all we can do is let go and vent.
Organise – What are the important things you need that will help you with a difficult situation. Is it a plan, a legal document, a technical report, the outcomes of a survey and so on? And, have you considered whether you need a suitable space or environment to deal with the issue?
Imagine walking into a hostile meeting. Logic has gone out the window, emotions are running high. In order to calm the situation down you will need two things:
- A neutral environment. It’s important to understand that at times, holding a meeting at your place will make those attending even more uncomfortable and perhaps feel threatened. Try and find a venue that’s acceptable to the participants. If this is not possible, select a venue that has good lighting, is not stuffy and has good amenities. Always make sure there is something to drink (water), always.
- Relevant and factual information. This may include reports or the outcomes of surveys. Perhaps even have an expert on hand. Information, if presented right – in an even handed way and takes into account the audience, can change the mood of a room.
Pack – In short what is your personal recovery plan? And how do you cope post incident? This includes undertaking the following:
- What do you need to put aside to get through during and after the event? In other words, do you need your own water? Remember to have your medications handy (some of us are prone to headaches in such situations), or perhaps even something to nibble on;
- What do you need to have in place? Or more importantly, what is the outcome you can live with?
- Where do you need to go to recuperate afterwards? Will you head back to the office (this would be my last choice), go out to dinner (not if you are exhausted), download with a colleague, go back to the hotel room or go home?
As with a cyclone, should the eye of the storm appear before you, ask yourself what you need to do in order to quickly adjust the above so that you may actually end up with a better outcome? In fact, what you may find is that you have extended the period of calm (and that is a really good outcome in itself).
Have I always been successful regarding the above? No, and I have the battle scars to prove it. But, I make sure when I experience such a blow, I try and identify where things went wrong and look at how I can build on what I know as a result to deal with similar situations in future.
A Success Story
I had a situation once, where the community in one of the towns I had responsibility for as a local government CEO, called a meeting one night to discuss a particular facility they wanted (i.e. not needed) built. I went along to the meeting, knowing exactly who I would be dealing with beforehand by confirming who the “real” proponents were (you know, the people who actually fire the bullets using others). I also suggested, that perhaps, the best place to hold the meeting was at the community telecentre and not at the local government offices. Once at the venue, I ensured I was seen as credible i.e. walk the talk. I spoke to some of the more reasonable people in the room prior to the meeting. Then, when I was invited to sit with the proponents at the start of the meeting, I made sure I did so, willingly.
When it was my turn to speak, I took the time to explain, in an even handed way, why the project couldn’t be done. I advised the proposed facility had to be operated by suitably qualified persons. Children can not be left to their own devices at such a venue. I also explained that the cost to put such a facility in place which took into account mitigating the risks regarding public safety and public liability were prohibitive. I also described my involvement with such facilities in other places, the problems encountered along the way and what we learnt from such a process at that time.
When it came to answering the questions from the floor (the “eye of the storm”), I made sure I took a deep breath and listened. This included confirming with the questioner if I had understood their question correctly (active listening). Although some of those in attendance were not happy with my advice, the majority agreed the facility was not something they really needed or should proceed with. After the meeting (the other side of the storm) we had a friendly cup of tea, I went quietly home, talked to my wife and put my feet up!
The purpose of today’s post was to get you to think a little bit more about how you can deal with those things when they suddenly happen or get out of hand. Whether you use the above points, or not, is not the issue. It’s more about understanding yourself and whether you can be prepared for what we call in the risk business, the known unknowns!