Fri | Jan 19, 2018

What Happens When Disaster Hits?

Published:Sunday | September 25, 2016 | 12:00 AM

We are constantly at risk. Major disappointments are part of our reality. You stumble in your sphere of operation or in your personal life. What happens next?

Much has been written about success strategies, but less is shared about how to deal with disaster. Yet, disaster is a real possibility.

Here is an approach for dealing with disastrous events.




A critical factor in dealing with disaster is to be prepared. Consequently, risk analysis is now being given priority attention in organisations.

In all spheres of our lives, we should take time to reflect on the possibility that something bad could occur. This is not to become paranoid. This is not to distract you from maintaining a positive outlook and envisioning a bright future.

The thinking here is that you should systematically review what could go wrong. Conduct 'what if' analyses. The coach identifies the things that could mess up an athlete's race and drills corrective measures into their consciousness.

You should prepare a list of things that could go wrong in your situation. It might be uncomfortable, but it is necessary. Having made the list, your next step is to imagine that those things are happening for real. Painful as it might be, the more realistic you make your mental imaging, the better for you.

In the first place, you will never want to have those experiences in real life. That gives you the motivation to do everything to avoid them.

Second, you will be better able to analyse the disaster. What caused it? How did it unfold? That gives you an insight into the kind of preparation that you need to put in place.

Third, confronting your fears gives you a psychological advantage when dealing with the real problems.

Take time to identify your vulnerabilities and threats, and design ways to overcome them.




There is a strong temptation to look outside of ourselves when disappointment comes. We seek to lay blame for the situation on outside elements.

The reality is that some things are of our doing. In the case of 'acts of God', those are a part of life. Being hit by lightning is not the Government's fault.

Blaming does little to help recovery from disappointing developments. In fact, it distracts you from taking appropriate action.

Conduct a focused self and/or group examination of the post-disaster state of affairs. Where are we now? What are our options? What are our priorities? What resources are at our disposal?

Among the list of priorities should be concrete action to limit the negative effects of the disaster. This usually means that the first responses need to come from the inside. Clarity of thought and calm resolve are essential ingredients in recovering quickly from fallout.




Looking inside speaks to self-examination and being proactive. It does not preclude the need for co-operation with others.

One morning at work in Germany, we learnt that something bad had occurred. This had implications for the future of the company. When our department head arrived, her line of questioning was aimed at identifying who was at fault. Having established that another department was at fault, she took no further action.

It might be my imagination, but she actually seemed pleased. Someone has just been disqualified for the next promotion. That clears the way for me.

I wonder if we appreciate the extent to which selfish and competitive motives frustrate progress and swift recovery from difficulties. As you read this, be aware that there are people who are revelling in the downfall of others. That is why Abbey D'Agostino's reaching out to fallen Nikki Hamblin in the 5,000-metre race could well have been the human interest story of the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Infighting can do more damage than your competitor's best efforts.

A final thought: People with strong faith navigate disasters better than others. Their faith provides an X-factor that gives them an edge.

Now enrolling for the SHRM-credentialed "Certified Behavioural Coach" program. E-mail:

• Trevor E.S. Smith is a behaviour modification coach with the Success with People Academy home of the 'Certified Behavioural Coach' and '3-D Team Leader' international certifications. http://certified