Everyone in IT has been there before. The core switches are melting down. The servers are formatting themselves. Packets are being shuffled off to their doom. Human sacrifce, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria. You know, the usual. What happens next?
Strangely enough, how IT people react to stressful situations such as these has become a rather interesting study habit of mine. I know how I react when these kinds of things start happening. I go into my own “panic mode”. It’s interesting to think about what changes happen when the stress levels get turned up and problems start mounting. I start becoming short with people. Not yelling or screaming, per se. I start using short declarative sentences at an elevated tone of voice to get my point across. I being looking for solutions to problems, however inelegant they may be. Quick fixes rule over complicated designs. I’ve trained myself to eliminate the source of stress or the cause of the problem. I tend to tune out any other distractions until the issues at hand are sorted out. Should I find myself in a situation where I can effect a solution to the problem, or if I’m waiting on someone or something to happen outside my directly control, that is the time when the stress starts mounting. To those that share my “can do” attitude, this makes me look efficient and helpful in times of crisis. To others, I look like a complete jerk.
I’ve also found that there are others in IT (and elsewhere) that have an entirely different method of dealing with stress: they shut down. My observations have shown that these people become overwhelmed with the pressure of the situation almost immediately and begin finding ways to cope through indirect action. Some begin blaming the problem on someone or something else. Rather than search out the source of the trouble, they try to pin it on someone other than them, maybe in the hopes they won’t have to deal with it. These people begin to withdraw into their own world. They sit down and stare off into space. They become quiet. Some of them even break down and start to cry (yes, I’ve seen that happen before). Until the initial shock of the situation has passed, they find themselves incapable of rendering any kind of assistance.
How do we as IT professionals deal with these two disparate types of panic modes? You need to work out how to do that now so that you don’t have to come up with things on the fly when the core switches are dropping packets and the CxOs are screaming for heads, which is funny that the second category of blamers and inaction people always seem to be in management.
For people like me, the “doers”, we need to be doing something that can impact the problem. No busy work, no research. We need to be attacking things head-on. Any second we aren’t in attack mode compounds the stress we’re under. Even if we try a hundred things and ninety nine of them fail, we have to try to keep from going crazy. Think of these “doers” like a wind-up toy: get us working on something and let us go. You might not want to be around us while we’re working, lest you want some curt answers followed by looks of distaste when we have to stop and explain what we’re doing. We’ll share…when we’re done.
For the other type of people, those that have a stress-induced Blue Screen of Death (BSoD), I’ve found that you have to do something to get them out of their initial funk. Sometimes, this involves busy work. Have them research the problem. Have them go get coffee. In most cases, have them do something other than be around you while you’re troubleshooting. Once you can get them past the blame/sulk/cry state, they can become a useful resource for whatever needs to happen to get the problem solved. Usually, they come back to me later and thank me for letting them help. Of course, they also usually tell me I was a bit of an ass and should really be nicer when I’m in panic mode. Oh well…
I don’t count on anyone in a stressful situation that isn’t me. Most often, I don’t have the luxury of time to figure out how a person is going to react. If you can help me I’ll get you doing something useful. If not, I’m going to ignore or marginalize you until the problem is fixed. Over the last couple of years, though, I’ve found that I really need to start working with every different group to ensure that communications are kept alive during stressful situations and no one’s feelings get hurt (even though I don’t normally care). By consciously realizing that people generally fall into the “doer” or “BSoD” category, I can better plan for ways to utilize them when the time comes and make sure that the only thing going CRUNCH at crunch time is the problem. And not someone’s head.