How to Respond to Difficult Situations


The way in which a leader responds to a difficult situation can sway their reputation in one of a few ways. Whether you have an upset customer, a work crisis, or a work conflict, the way you respond to the situation is crucial. Let’s review and prepare for How to Respond to Difficult Situations:

A Leader’s Role in Responding

As difficult as it may be sometimes, you don’t have the option to simply walk away from most situations. A response will be demanded because of the role you play in decision making. Your role in responding is to simply help find a solution, not always dictate the solution. Exploring multiple avenues and involving other resources will help you make the right response. At the end of your day, you need to respond, make a decision, and I always recommend following up with your response.

How a Leader Should Respond

Your words are not near as important as your actions and behavior during a difficult decision. If you are customer or employee facing, and give off a persona that you don’t care- you have lost already. Even if you feel you have no control or quality input on the situation, your demeanor is everything.  

  • Show strong empathy by nodding your head and making eye contact
  • Slow your speech and acknowledge you care
  • Focus on breathing and listening rather than jumping to a quick response
  • Look determined, not scared and frantic
  • Smile, SMILE!

During the moments of difficult situations there are many emotions and physical feelings you should be comfortable acknowledging. Anxiety, stress, increased heart beats, stomach turning etc. are all normal. The longer you are a leader, especially in high-stress environments you will learn to control the physical side effects of stress. Don’t let the physical feelings defeat you or make you lose confidence, everyone feels them.

It is usually okay to ask someone for more time before making a decision. Simply expressing concern for a quality solution due to a lack of time and resources will help others understand your need for more time. During this time, you need to make the problem a top priority, and you absolutely must follow up on the problem yourself.

If the situation you are facing gets to a point that it becomes volatile and unprofessional, your role is to end the situation immediately. You still don’t get an easy-out, but you do have the power to control your problem. Asking someone to revisit you when they can be professional and respectful is completely fine in extreme cases. Do not use this as an easy escape for simple problems.

Try to use words and express feelings that you wouldn’t mind the World hearing about the next day. There is very little room for error, so responding in anger, frustration or “keeping it real” is not a great idea for a successful response.

Strong communication and decision making in difficult situations will be imperative as you progress in your career. Ask your team and leaders how well you respond to difficult situations. Use their feedback in conjunction with this article to help develop your skills in the next few months.

Develop daily,

Michael Dooley
Questions: from an employee’s view, how important is a leaders response? From a leader’s view, what do you see as the most common error in responding to situations? 



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