Thursday, October 31, 2013

When Lightning Strikes

You just never know when you have a moment to learn, life could change, or something unusual happens that could impact you.

  "Image courtesy of  Foto76/".

Recently when flying back from Ontario to Alberta following a presentation at a Women’s Conference, the plane I was on was struck by lightning. 

I had never thought about a plane being struck by lightning, and for a person who flies 20-40 times a year, it is probably amazing I have never experienced any type of “problem” on an airplane. 

We were just about to begin the decent to Edmonton airport when I saw orange blur and sparks, the plane jolted, and we heard a huge bang. The orange sparks and blur were about two seats ahead of me.  At first I thought the engine had caught fire. I looked at the flight attendants who did not look rattled, then looked at the engine that had no orange blur or sparks, and as I turned my head to my seat mate to ask “what the heck was that?” the flight attendant came on the PA system announcing “our plane has been struck by lightning. We’ll know in a minute if there is any reason to be alarmed. Planes are built to withstand lightning strikes.”

It was a very long minute....
When she never returned to the PA system, it was a safe assumption that all was fine. As I reflected upon this incident during the landing, I found myself reflecting on how people communicate in a time of crisis (real or perceived) in the workplace. 

After working in the Correctional System in an earlier career, we became quite skilled at crisis management and communicating during a workplace crisis. These skills served me well in my future career, and, even as a professional speaker. Last year an audience members experienced a severe medical emergency during a presentation. The good news was that the room was filled with medical professionals who immediately stepped into action. The training I had in crisis communication (just liked the incredible West Jet employees on the plane that day) helped calm the individuals who also experienced the situation directly or indirectly.  

Communicating in crisis involves:

  •    Addressing the obvious, calmly, clearly and without drama.

  •  Providing a short statement of reassurance supported by fact (e.g. “We have been struck by lightning. Planes are built to withstand lightning strikes. The plane and all of us are fine.” Or “We are going to take a short break to help your colleague. We are in a room of medical experts and he is in good hands and will be well cared for.”
  •   Re-addressing the obvious.  The flight attendant later said “We have a very special guest on board. Anna is 87 years old, this is her first flight, and she was struck by lightning. She’ll have some great stories to share with her great grandchildren tonight at dinner.” of course the plan roared with laughter and clapping after this statement.

  • Communicating clearly (almost in bullet statements) and removed any “fluff” or drama that would cause confusion, questions or emotion (such as fear).

  • Providing direction. Let people know what they need to do, steps to take, action, etc.  Don't leave it up to assumptions or guesswork. In stress people often assume or guess wrong.
  • Being available to answer questions, address concerns, etc.
Remember these steps next time you have to communicate in times of stress, change, crisis or lightning strikes.  


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