Stay Calm. But Not Too Calm!

If your company caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history, would you think it’s a good time to head off to a yacht race for a bit?


The oily waves Orange Beach, Alabama – over 90 miles from the BP spill.
Image source: Guardian.co.uk

It’s easy to criticize BP CEO Tony “I’d like my life back” Hayward for being insensitive, and even insulting.

Without letting Hayward off the hook — I wonder, on a much smaller and less environmentally-disastrous scale, how often we all react — or are perceived to react — inappropriately in a given work situation? And what effect does that have on our products, our teams, our companies?

When Is A Crisis Not A Crisis?

Crisis management is tough. But the normal everyday interactions we have with other people can offer their own unique challenges, and consequences.

We all deal with complex problems, rapidly changing situations, broken lines of communication, unclear roles. There’s uncertainty, personality conflicts, personal situations…

At any point, any of these elements can conspire to become a crisis — either real (“Oil spill!”) or imagined (“Why didn’t the senior engineer smile at me today?”).

Before You Scoot Off For That Glitzy Yacht Race…

Make sure your words, actions, and demeanor underscore what you’re trying to say about the given situation.

And do that in every interaction you have with everyone.

This means projecting a reassuring attitude while asking tough questions that yield a comprehensive picture of what’s going on, and why.

That means watching your tone and facial expressions so you appear emotionally appropriate and engaged at all times.

Remember: Sometimes, a calm, measured demeanor can help reinforce what you’re trying to say. Sometimes, that same approach can make you look like you’re distracted or unsympathetic. Depends on the situation.

And, yes, my fellow PMs: Sometimes that means skipping this year’s yacht race to avoid looking oblivious and unsympathetic. After all, there’s always next year.

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Christopher Cummings

Blogs about product management. Loves Jesus, his family, comic books, video games, and giant robots. Occasionally crawls through mud and leaps over fire.
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