I just spent a long day doing “donation triage” at the Petaluma Fairgrounds, receiving generous amounts of supplies for the victims of the Bay Area fires. It was my first time volunteering at a center for evacuees and I must say… it was chaotic. Cars and trucks were dumping off bottled water, diapers, pillows, blankets and breakfast bars.
As I watched volunteers unloading, sorting and organizing, like a colony of ants getting ready for winter, I soon figured out the most valuable players in the game: the volunteer coordinators. These were the people who signed up the volunteers, told them what to do and answered at least 10 questions per minute.
I walked up to Gary at the registration table and said, “Hey, I already heard your short speech for that last guy. I’ll put on a name tag and head back to the kitchen to lend a hand.”
He gave me thumbs up and told me to wear latex gloves if I was serving food. And if I could lift, they needed help with stacking cases of bottled water. And even though he was inundated with things to do and people to instruct, he looked me in the eye and said, “Thanks for giving your time today. This is a big one.”
Have you ever been in an intense environment like this and lost your patience? Maybe it was a crisis at work or taking a relative to the emergency room. It takes focus to be a cool-headed leader when chaos is swirling around you.
In honor of the awesome volunteer coordinators I just observed, here are five things you can do the next time you have to communicate in a crisis:
- Stay calm. Panic breeds more panic.
- Make eye contact and be fully present with each person who approaches you.
- Listen carefully and do not interrupt their questions. Jumping to conclusions can waste time and aggravate the asker.
- Give instructions and watch their reaction to make sure they are receiving.
- Tell them to come back if they need help, or point them to another supervisor. Followers need to be led.
When people see you under control, and even expressing a sense of humor, it builds confidence in the midst of chaos. My thanks to Gary and all the team leaders making a difference for the displaced families. It was an honor to work with you.