In times of work-related crisis, most people tend to become more conservative in their work actions. That is the usually the worst thing to do. When confronting challenges, be bold, or be doomed to suffer more.
Why do people tend to become more conservative and cautious in times of work stress? Fear. They are in a fearful situation, and that fear can be paralyzing. It’s a completely normal response, but not a rational one. Unfortunately, in times of fear the rational mind goes and hides under the covers and whimpers a little. Cautiousness and conservatism are the demons fear sends to do its work.
Say a scientist doesn’t want to talk about his research publicly because he wants a head start on the field and doesn’t want to alert his competitors. Perhaps a researcher is concerned about issuing a press release because her collaborators might think she is stealing the glory. The driving emotion here is fear. But it’s not rational.
Let’s reframe this situation. In times of fear, people tend to become inactive. The response is neither fight nor flight. It is just to do nothing or not very much.
How can doing nothing get you out of a situation you are in? It will only work if you already know that the crisis will pass on its own, and in that case it’s not really a crisis. It’s just a situation that you should be mitigating. And that still requires action anyway, so there is really no excuse for being less active.
Doing nothing can’t remove the causes of the stress or crisis. Doing something can. What something? That all depends on the situation but something is better than nothing. Change the rules of the situation. Be creative in how you might address it.
The most important thing you can do in a time of crisis is take a risk. Again, if you know how to get out of it, it’s not really a crisis and you can just deal with it. Let the fear go. But if nothing you have done before has prevented the crisis or will knowingly help, the only other option is to try something new. That involves taking a risk.
So what risks could our scientists take? The scientist who is fearful of alerting competitors to his work is already taking a big risk that one of them will be him to where he wants to be. If that happened, he would have nothing left. Instead, why not push even harder than usual with the publicity? Make it absolutely clear what the scientist has done and plant a flag in the territory claiming it for the scientist. If he thinks he’s the only one who can make the discovery, there is a probably a significant (and mistaken) ego in play.
How about the researcher who is worried what her coworkers would say? Go the opposite way to what you’d expect. Don’t remove her from the picture; make her the center of it. But try an approach that would be impossible for her coworkers—being her! Add her personality, her humanity, her image—think video—to the mix. She can still find ways to properly acknowledge her colleagues, and describe her role in the work. But by presenting herself in ways that take advantage of her peculiar situation, she removes the primary concern she had. Of course, this needs to be tailored to her situation, but there will be a way.
Taking a risk is unlikely to make a crisis worse, or if it does, at least you tried, and you can try a new risk, but it does have the chance of making things better, and that’s a chance you don’t have if you do nothing.