Our work dramas may never escalate to the heights that they do on ABC's new series "Scandal." On the first episode alone protagonist Olivia Pope, played by actress Kerry Washington, tackled a double White House affair and the murder of a young Washingtonian believed to have been killed by her decorated military boyfriend.
But real-life crisis manager, and the inspiration for Pope's character, Judy Smith, knows that crises run the gamut. While her boutique crisis management firm, Smith and Company, has worked behind the scenes helping calm the international hysteria over the SARS pandemic; advising Kobe Bryant and Michael Vick during their run-ins with the law; and shaping the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's reputation following the 9/11 attacks, Smith is well versed on dealing with everyday dilemmas, too.
"I like to believe in the good in people. But we're all going to screw up from time to time," Smith told Washingtonian magazine last month, describing her biggest takeaway about human nature from her encounters with people at some of their lowest points in life.
In her book, Good Self, Bad Self: Transforming Your Worst Qualities Into Your Biggest Assets, Smith pinpoints seven character traits that she says give rise to those screw-ups, and can send even the best of us spinning into turmoil and disgrace -- ego, denial, fear, ambition, accommodation, patience and indulgence.
"All these attributes can be blessings as well as curses; they’re positive when you manage them well but they create problems when you don't," she says. "The role they provide can keep you moving forward in your career and life but if they’re out of control they can cause you to crash and burn."
Here, Smith kicks off a series with The Huffington Post, offering her best advice on how to turn a crisis into an opportunity and how to avoid getting into trouble in the first place.
10 TIPS FOR PREVENTING CRISES AT WORK
- Talk about the elephant in the room. If there is a problem don't act like there isn't one. The sooner you deal with it the better. Always assume that if you've made a mistake or have been involved with something that could prove problematic for either the company or the person you work for, that it will in time come to light. For the most part it's better to be proactive than passive in these situations. Take the reins and try to protect yourself.
- Brainstorm a conflict. When you brainstorm a conflict it allows everyone to talk about the problem in an objective way. Don't make it personal. The goal is to have the problem owned by the group.
- Focus on what you do and do it well. Don't spend your time focused or worried about your competition. It's about your work not someone else's.
- Think about what you can give vs. what you can get. Your strength is your attitude, commitment, and competency. Your uniqueness and effectiveness in this area act as your strongest register of worth.
- Think more as a team and less as an individual. This will prove to be more efficient and will get you positive notice by your superiors.
- Establish and maintain good working relationships with co-workers. You don't have to be friends but you do have to be friendly.
- Make sure you are clear about the expectations your boss has for you.
- If you make a mistake at work address it as soon as possible -- don't hide it.
- Write stuff down. Protect yourself by always having a record of what transpired or was said in any situation that might be considered sensitive.
- Stay calm and do not overreact. Instead, determine what strategies you can use to address the problem and then take action. Although you might be worried about the consequences don't give into reacting rashly to that fear. It will often prove to be more damaging.
Personal crisis about to erupt? Reputation in need of repair? Email us your dilemma and get Judy's take on how to handle it. You can also follow her on Twitter (@JudySmith_) or "Like" her on Facebook for more information on managing personal and professional crisis situations.