On Saturday, 8th March 2014, we woke up to a sunny day but to only find out later about the shocking news that a Malaysia Airline MH370 was found missing just barely a couple of hours or so after taking off from Kuala Lumpur airport en route to Beijing, China.

As expected, the day went by with lots of anticipation as we waited for updated news on the status of the missing aircraft.  The media was in a frenzy mode trying to get hold of the latest news and the social media platforms were jammed with posts on what had happened and what could possibly have happened.

MH370 Malaysia Airlines Flight Missing #PrayForMH370

I was feeling somewhat uneasy about this news maybe because of the fact that this incident happened in our neighbouring region. As I watched the news or scroll through the trending tweets to like #prayformh370, I can’t help but to start thinking of what are the essentials needed in a crisis situation like this. I’m not a crisis management expert and neither have I ever been personally involved in such tragic circumstances.  But I thought of wanting to share the key takeaways of crisis management and how these could be relevant and applicable in our day-to-day situation such as at work based on what I’ve observed so far.

Perhaps for some, the request to make a presentation at the very last minute can be viewed as a crisis or even a situation when you have to handle an extreme case of difficult customer.

So what are these essentials?

1.      Communication

This plays a very significant part and is by far the most critical. In a crisis situation, it seems that there’s a need to ensure proper communication especially in the way it’s being delivered.

This conclusion came about after watching and observing how the press conference of the government officials was being managed, and how streams of newsfeed were coming through via the social platforms like Facebook and Twitter.  An important call out here is – confirm and communicate facts only, not those based on speculations! Despite some that took the opportunity to condemn the relevant parties of delaying or withholding information to the media/public, in all fairness, I actually felt that it was a professional decision to do so as I heard the officials repeatedly saying that they were not able to confirm any source of information until they themselves have hard evidences from official resources to reveal.

Can you imagine the chaos if every hour or so the officials kept going back and forth between what was at first thought as a fact (news that the plane had crash onto nearby ocean) then only later to reveal that there was no evidence (no plane wreckage was found) but had merely been based on hearsay.

>> So if you are in such a crisis situation though it may look in another form (and not necessarily as major as this), ensure that you gather nothing but facts to present your case. You can never go wrong with facts!

2.      Empathy

“Prayers and thoughts for passengers and crew on board.”

These were posted everywhere from the television to Facebook, on Twitter and Instagram.  The message here is simple – before anything else, have empathy for the victims and their next of kin. No amount of news coverage can ever replace what is going through their thoughts and feelings at the most vulnerable state of their life.

Whilst the various military agencies have been deployed on a search mission for the missing aircraft, it is understood that one group of people were also quickly gathered to be deployed as counsellors.  This group of people (professional counsellors and trained volunteers) has one of the most difficult jobs to do in such a crisis situation. Their primary role is to provide comfort and assurance to the next of kin of the victims.  This is a not an easy feat to do especially as you are dealing with emotions.  I recalled a few years ago when there was a crisis that happened with our local airline.  An old school friend of mine was one of the volunteers who had to play the role of a counsellor buddy.  From my understanding, till today the incident had left a huge impact on her emotionally.  She would tear every time she is asked to recount that tragic circumstance.   Let’s not forget these unsung heroes!

>> Even though your work crisis situation may not be on a major scale like this, it’s always a good reminder to take a step back and have an emphatic point of view with those whom you are facing the challenges with.

3.      Preparation

Some made comments like the press conference looked kind of ‘messy’ – especially during the Q & A sessions.  Well again, in all fairness, this was an emergency situation.  However, the fact that this is a national crisis, without a doubt many preparation had gone into this in anticipation of such unwanted tragic incidents.  All official agencies were immediately alerted and deployed accordingly – search and rescue teams, government officials’ communication, counsellors, etc.   They would have gone through numerous drills, rehearsals or OJT (on the job training) to prepare each individual of their roles.

For sure, there would be instances that one may be caught unprepared due to unforeseen circumstances e.g. during Q & A at press conference.  You might never know the kind of questions that the media will post.  Having said that, I’m very sure that the officials have been prepared with a long list of anticipated questions judging from the calm responses provided.

>> In any situation, big or small, the key ingredient is to always be prepared.  Even if your presentation is a mere 10-minute duration, there shouldn’t be any discounts on the amount of time allocated to prepare for it. Always be prepared for Q & A with that long list of questions and of course don’t forget to pen down the replies and rehearse them a few times. You’ll go a long way and will definitely be able to minimise a crisis happening within a crisis moment.

So there you go with the 3 takeaways. I know these are just basics but it is usually in times of crisis that going back to basics become the essentials.

What were some of the valuable lessons that you have picked up in your experience of crisis management?  Feel free to share…

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Last but not least, let’s continue to pray for the fate of the missing MH370. Our thoughts and deepest sympathy for the passengers and their grieving family members.