Crisis Intervention Strategies

This is a challenging and, in many ways, frightening time.  One way that we can provide leadership to others is by helping them think through how we all respond to the current situation.  Two great psychological thinkers on the topic are Gilliland and James, researchers on crisis intervention strategies.  While their model does not solve the current problem, it does give us a way to think through situations and how, as leaders, we can help others think through their situation.  They represent crisis intervention strategies as having six basic steps.

Step One – Define the Problem.  In this phase, we help others figure out what the problem is that we are trying to solve.  Very specifically, what is it that we are trying to create or prevent?  During a time where fear and anxiety can be overarching and long-reaching, this phase is helpful in focusing people on exactly what is the specific issue they want to solve, or at least minimize/mitigate.

Step Two – Ensure  Safety.  While this phase really colors the other steps in the process, it is important at the very beginning to emphasize to oneself and to others that the safety of the people around us is our overriding concern.  The safety of those that we lead, manage, and support must be paramount throughout the entire process from both the minds of the people that are providing this leadership, and the minds of the people that they are helping.

Step Three – Provide Support.  During crisis intervention, it is important to communicate that one party is here to assist the other.  The phrase used by the authors is, “Here is one person who really cares about you.”  This demonstration of support has psychological factors of both reassuring the person and allowing them to enter a calmer state where they can help solve the problem with you, and it demonstrates the unconditional positive regard one party has for the other.

Step Four – Examine Alternatives.  As we know, anxiety is the enemy of creative thinking.  During this challenging time, there will be new problems to solve in new ways, and, by helping figure out what the alternatives are, as leaders we can help our teams be as clear-headed as possible.  This is best accomplished, however, by proceeding through the previous three phases to get everyone in the state of mind where the creative thinking can be as productive as possible.

Step Five – Make a Plan.  At this point, the alternatives have been weighed and the most likely approach has been decided upon.  This should be done collaboratively with a group.  In most cases, individual decisions are better informed when others are let in.  A thorough weighting of the options usually arrives at best conclusions.

Step Six – Obtain Commitment.  In this phase, individuals are given assignments, and leaders need to make sure that they understand what is being asked of them.  This is often a good place to ask staff to briefly summarize the plan back to you to make sure that it is understood and the appropriate nuance has been added.

As in all phases, core listening skills are very important.  Making sure that all parties are deeply understood will help and obtain their commitment to the plan later.  It is our hope that these short-term crisis management strategies will help us all move towards a safe and healthy future in the near term.


  • Terence Bostic, Ph.D.

    Terence is a Managing Partner at CMA Global, where he has been helping executives develop engaged and more effective talent pools since 2003. He is a licensed psychologist in Missouri and is repeatedly published as the principal author in international, peer-reviewed journals on issues of stress management, personal resiliency, and psychological wellbeing. He is also a member of the American Psychological Association, the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and the Society for Consulting Psychology.