How and what you communicate in a crisis will very often determine the success or otherwise of your endeavors. It’s that important!
Building trust quickly is essential. You will need people to respond quickly and effectively if you are to move fast enough to react to the crisis unfolding.
Transparency builds trust, and a willingness to be open, vulnerable and authentic goes a long way to building trust.
A wise person said that “the problem with communication is the illusion that its taken place”. Just when you’ve repeated your message yet again, and you’re thinking surely, I can’t need to say this again; it is just starting to land with those who need to hear it. More is better; be succinct and clear yes, but it’s hard to over communicate. What you communicate is also important, be genuine, open and transparent; no secrets, or ‘need to know’ policy, which often becomes weaponised in the hands of power orientated bureaucrats. How much more so is full disclosure needed in a crisis!
Be transparent and truthful even when it is negative.
People always fill a gap in communication with assumptions, and they usually assume the worst. So you might as well be open.
What is it about bad news? It sells well, travels fast and seems to catch our attention. Our 24-hour news cycle is unfortunately built on it. Despite all the views to the contrary there is nothing wrong with communication in most companies. All and every staff survey will put communication at the top of things to improve, and yet assumed bad news will get around a team at the speed of gossip.
Talk confidently, but not definitively if there is genuine uncertainty. You can talk to capability and actions taken or decisions made but definite outcomes are rarely predictable in a crisis and that’s OK. It’s OK to not to know, to try something and it didn’t work, or to change your mind when circumstances dictate. If you make definitive statements you’ll paint yourself into a self-imposed position you may regret.
Abraham Lincoln said, "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts." He faced a crisis or two!
Take the time to explain the why behind the what. It’s amazing what people will take on, if they know why and you treat them with respect, regardless of their position and role. Keep it simple, be genuine and show some empathy.
Have one plan; make it very open and transparent, super simple and easy to understand. Have honesty and integrity; be open in your communications and help define reality, you’ll be surprised how that builds respect and garners an appropriate response.
Open transparent communication will create a level of trust and engagement, that transcends bad news. In turn this can unlock solutions and foster creativity.
Keep your tone calm. You can be authentic, show empathy and remain calm. This is not the time for the big ra-ra speech. You don’t motivate people through a crisis, you lead; that’s a big difference.
People may be genuinely fearful. Show you understand that and address their biggest concerns first. “Do I have a job, and will I be able to feed my family?” will be ahead of “what can I do to save the company?” It’s like a corporate version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.