Inside Disruption Blog

Atypical Events: Rush to Judgement?

Dennis Potter
February 8, 2017

What is the difference between a “typical event” and an “atypical” event? We are never quite sure until we determine the details. When I am called to respond to an organization that has been hit with a potentially disruptive event, I always attempt to gather as much information as I can about the event to discern what issues the employees might be having in response. These issues frequently involve guilt, anger, and grief. When I can imagine how these issues might show up, I can be prepared with the right handouts and the right teaching points for a successful response.


The three events we respond to most often are the unexpected death of an employee, a robbery, or downsizing. But each can have a different “flavor.” One day I was dispatched to a bank after a robbery (typical event). Except in this case, it was a drive-through bank robbery (atypical event). As I was driving to the location, I was trying to imagine how this might negatively impact the employees. No weapon was shown or brandished, the robbers never came into the bank threatening anyone, no one besides the drive-through teller knew it was happening, and he knew he was safe behind the bullet proof glass. So, I thought, this would be a short group response and I would likely be back on the road in no time.


What happened? It turns out that the young man was having significant anger issues about the robbery because he felt emasculated for having to give them the money. He felt his manhood had been challenged, and his self-identity as a man had been undermined by the robbers not being “man enough” to enter the bank, forcing him to send it out through the tube system. It was not until one of his colleagues stated that he had done his job to protect all of them by complying with the demands and bank protocol to give robbers what they wanted and leave the area. You could see his self-assessment changed by this new information. There was also a second teller having flashbacks to a robbery that had happened earlier in her career with more negative consequences. She thought she was going crazy. A little information about flashbacks being pretty common reassured her tremendously.


So, this “atypical event” reminded me once again, that you cannot accurately predict the impact of an event on employees. A seemingly simple event can have some powerful consequences, and one that you think would have strong reactions might not. You must go into each event with an open mind and listen carefully to be effective!

Dennis Potter