Lost Your Data?! How to Calm Someone After a Drive Crash

Advice from data crisis counselor Kelly Chessen

Kelly Chessen was a suicide hotline counselor who later became a “data crisis counselor” at DriveSavers, which helps end-users recover their data and their composure. Share with colleagues in HR and management her list of tips for calming a distressed person.

1. Establish a rapport. A crisis state makes someone feel like no one can understand why he’s upset, which in turn makes him more upset. To defeat this cycle, it’s important to win the person’s trust. Chessen uses a technique called validation. “Don’t say, ‘I understand,’” she says, because they won’t believe you. “Instead, use indirect acknowledgement. ‘I’d certainly be upset too.’ Or, ‘That must be frustrating. You have every right to be angry.’” Chessen adds that you should never tell someone in crisis how to feel, or say, “You need to calm down.” Speak in a calm, even voice, which isn’t always easy if someone is yelling at you. Chessen says she breathes deeply and speaks calmly even as she feels her temper rising.

2. Listen for signs of major problems. Chessen is alert for certain words and phrases that might indicate a person is in profound distress. “Sometimes I’ll hear someone say, ‘If I can’t get my data back, I don’t know what I’ll do,’ and that’s a tip to me,” she says, as are other statements such as “This is hopeless” or “My life is over.” In every case, Chessen asks the person directly, “Are you considering suicide?” Whether it’s a life event, or the loss of a critical work product at stake, it’s crucial to ask. “If they’re not thinking about it, they’ll say no. And if they are, the fact that someone asked them to talk about it will be a relief and a release for them.”

3. Give space and time. Let the person tell his story. Be an active listener, Chessen says, which means “making sure the person knows you’re part of the conversation by asking questions and injecting verbal cues, like ‘Uh huh’ and ‘I see.’” Another technique is repeating to someone what they just said to you. “If they say ‘I’m pissed my computer broke,’ I say back, ‘So you’re upset that your computer failed. I’d be upset too.’” People feel better if they can tell their story, Chessen says.

4. Don’t mislead the distressed person. When Chessen is helping a DriveSavers caller, and she knows what’s happening with equipment, she can reassure the person. “I can say, ‘We can recover that kind of data 90 percent of the time,’” she says. It helps people in crisis to know the odds are on their side. But she also must acknowledge the 10 percent chance that the data won’t be recovered. “If I don’t, then I’ve broken that trust we’ve built up if that 10 percent chance actually comes true,” she says. And that could prompt another crisis.

5. Develop an action plan. Once you have enough information, you can help the person in crisis explore his options, both in the current instance and for the future. It’s important to avoid something that blames the person for what happened. (Don’t say, “Next time, back up your data,” for example.) What Chessen can do is have a portfolio of resources, such as backup products or services, plus information on how data is recovered from hard drives. Then it’s time to build a plan for moving forward. The more concrete the plan—with tasks the person in crisis can do to ameliorate the situation—the better. Exploring alternatives and finding a path to a solution helps a person get through the short-term state of a crisis, Chessen says.

source: “How to Calm Someone Down

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