Handling Unexpected Problems in Life

June 29, 2024
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

© Rudyard Kipling

I am sure everyone has had something unexpected arise at some point in their life; from being told at 8pm by a child that they needed a dinosaur outfit for Book Time the following day to coming into work to find that an you need to get a replacement part out to a client in the USA to arrive the following day.  

How we handle these curved balls is often predetermined by our upbringing and the lessons we have learnt along the way. For example, if a parent always got angry when something negative happened, we can sometimes grow up thinking that is the right thing to do, but all this serves to do is upset others, often the very people we need to help us resolve matters. Panicking and shouting is more than often counter productive and adds to the issue(s) and pushes people away from us.

Today has been an eye opener in terms of watching a racing garage deal with a fault that had orignially been thought to be sensor related. Early morning testing showed that the problem was more complex than this as the fuel pressure had dropped significantly on the track. I watched with one of the drivers as the car was dismantled, everyone hoping that the fault could be isolated and repairs done in time for the race.  

I've been in other garages when things have gone wrong, and am aware how quickly everyone can get stressed and steam rises from owners. I was therefore expecting to be asked to leave, so you can imagine my surprise when I was assured that this would not be necessary. 

I stood and carried on chatting with the driver and his wife while the engineers went about their job in a calm and professional manner and everyone else just let them get on with the fault finding. It was also so positive to hear the owner reassure his team to take things in their stride and not to get stressed.  

Comparing this to various managers I have had to work under, while a few exhibited the same levels of patience and calm, the majority would stand anxiously over people's shoulders, completely oblivious to the fact that their presence was not helpful and potentially even making things worse by asking for updates every 5 minutes.

It was a sad moment when the racing team realised that the fault could not be fixed, thus meaning that they could not take part in either of the two races on the day, but once again no one pointed any fingers. It just wasn't their day and that acceptance is part of the life of a true professional. 

I left the racetrack feeling sad that they could not compete, and yet bolstered by the pragmatic and philosophical way in which everyone had come together. To me, this is what makes a team special.  
Staying calm during any crisis isn't easy and yet essential for effective problem-solving and maintaining the well-being of those affected. Here are some strategies that may help you the next time something goes awry:
  1. Take a Deep Breath: Start by taking a few deep breaths to calm your nervous system. This helps reduce immediate stress and clears your mind. Try the box breathing technique which is something the UK SpTecial Forces are trained to do.
  2. Assess the Situation: Take a step back to objectively evaluate what’s happening. Identify the core issues, what needs to be done  and prioritize tasks -  if you need to run out to the supermaket to get glue, then you need to do this before they close!
  3. Communicate Clearly: Keep lines of communication open with your team or family. Share relevant information and updates to ensure everyone is on the same page. Try to keep your voice as normal as possible.
  4. Delegate Tasks: Don’t try to handle everything yourself; if it's a work issue, try to delegate tasks to team members according to their strengths and expertise. It's often hard for some of us to ask for help as we see this as a weakness, but these days, I do feel that it actually is a sign of strength because we are being honest and open with situations.
  5. Focus on Solutions: Shift your focus from the problem to potential solutions. Encourage brainstorming and collaborative problem-solving if this is possible. Whether it's calling your Mum or running up the stairs to ask for help from another colleague, often others can help us see the wood instead of the trees...
  6. Manage Your Time: Be mindful of how you allocate your time and avoid getting bogged down by the smaller tasks which don't really contribute. Is anyone goint to really notice that your stegosaurus spines aren't all the same shape and size?
  7. Stay Positive: Positivity can be quite contagious and help boost team morale during challenging times. Taking a break and offering to make each other cuppas or going out to get biscuits can give everyone a little boost.
  8. Take Breaks: Don’t forget to take short breaks to recharge if possible. This can help prevent burnout and keep you functioning at your best. Just walking outside for a minute or listening to a favourite track works for me.
  9. Seek Support: If needed, seek support from your boss, friends or colleagues. Sometimes an outside perspective can provide valuable insights. Even if it's just messaging your bestie, it helps you feel less alone  and who knows, they may know someone who has that dinosaur outfit in the attic!


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