Full Emotion False Alarm

4 Tips for managing full emotion false alarms

Full Emotion False Alarm

Have you ever been in the middle of a response to a crisis that turned out to not be a crisis after all? Have you ever had to go to extraordinary efforts to pull together information or provide a defense for a situation that did not really happen? Did it feel like a full emotion response to a false alarm?

The news is full of stories of people overreacting to events that prove to be false alarms. Recently it was reported that about 50 people scrambled from a terminal at LAX airport when someone yelled at the top of their lungs to run, and they did. Certainly in our current atmosphere of heightened sensitivity to threats and terrible actions from around the world, it is understandable that people, fearing the worst, ran for their lives. It is part of our DNA to instinctively flee from danger. But the kicker? It was a false alarm. It turns out someone screamed “Run!” when they saw that authorities had stopped a person in a Zorro outfit with a plastic sword. There was no real threat, just an emotional reaction to a perceived danger.

Running from danger is a good and reasonable response to a real threat. There is no question of that. When in danger, flee. No questions asked. However, in this case there was no real danger, just an emotional reaction to an unusual situation. Without all of the facts, someone assumed the worst, overreacted and triggered an emotional panic response from all of those around them.

We face these false alarm challenges on a regular basis. We encounter situations that from the first report seem to have dire consequences for our role, department, business, profession or some aspect of our professional lives. The initial reports may be fragmented, inaccurate or even exaggerated. Military commanders in the field often refer to this phenomenon as the “fog of war,” a period of time where the information is incomplete and unreliable.

First and foremost, we need to keep our perspective and realize the improbable is improbable. Things are not likely to be as bad as initially reported. Certainly they will be different than initially reported. We will need to seek additional information from several sources to piece together a more complete view of the situation. In most cases, once we have the complete picture, or at least enough of the picture to gain an informed perspective, the situation will not be as dire as initially reported.

Many times I have received dire reports from the field that if true as reported are seriously troubling. In many of these situations, once the full perspective is understood, the situation is far less troubling than initially reported. It usually stems from a misunderstanding or miscommunication that leads to an impulsive reaction. I was certainly glad I did not overreact in those times and add weight to a single perspective of the situation to only make matters worse.

As leaders people will look to us to react to the situation and will respond according to our actions and instructions. We can either keep our perspective and fully examine the issue and organize a response or react emotionally without sufficient assessment of the situation and cause a panic response. As hard as it may be to keep our emotions in-check, it is essential that we do so. We can very easily end up adding to the confusion or doing additional damage to critical relationships by acting before we have a well-rounded perspective on the issue. Keeping our cool and gathering the facts will always play to our advantage. Once we have the facts, by all means react.

As smart leaders we know that people look to us for our first reaction to see if they are in danger. Our initial reaction and our next steps will determine if everyone keeps their heads and gathers the facts or runs for the doors. Keep the emotions in-check, gather the facts and react accordingly will work for us every time.

Here are 4 tips for managing full emotion false alarms:

1) Keep our cool – Even though it may be a challenge, keep our emotions in-check.

2) Find the facts – Look for information from more than one source. Try to get information from varying perspectives so we can piece together a clearer picture of the issue.

3) Make a plan – Once we understand the issue, make a plan to resolve the issue. Carefully consider the options and identify the best path forward. Keep some flexibility in the plan to adjust the approach should new information become available that modifies our perspective.

4) Communicate – Communicate both the issue and the plan in plain, simple, easy-to-understand terms. Realize that rumors or other false narratives that are in circulation may challenge us. Make sure that everyone has a clear view of the issue and the resulting plan. This is no time for ambiguity, as that will only add to the confusion.

Being smart leaders we know that keeping our cool at the moment of perceived crisis can make all of the difference between a non-event and a full-on panic. We are prepared with reason to deal with the occasional full emotion false alarm.


Skip Gilbert

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