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Leadership Communication During Turbulent Times: Refresh and Restart…With Heart

Two corporate business men communicating

by Ron Friedman

In a 2019 blog, I wrote about the wonders of solitude and travel. These days, “shelter at home” and state-wide social distancing pronouncements have abolished travel plans, local gatherings, and weeklong conferences. The restrictions have put most of us on pause. If this has disoriented you, consider an upbeat perspective. In Journal of a Solitude, poet May Sarton wrote that “Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is richness of self.” Communicators during times of heightened anxiety can help people see the richness of their solitude. Here’s how:

Crafting Messages That Quell the Storm

The goal of an efficient crisis communications strategy is to infuse and not confuse. It must instill confidence in those standing on shaky ground. Ambiguity may be a good strategy during a brainstorming session, but not during an international emergency. Messaging that is factual, honest, and empathic during uncertain times will calm jittery nerves.

Communication teams cannot afford a single misstep in contending with COVID-19. Putting the best foot forward communication-wise means addressing the key concerns of your stakeholders. It means putting a halt to business-as-usual marketing (there are still too many companies communicating as if things were normal). Now is the time to focus on informational needs. The residual returns to your brand’s value will accrue of itself.

There are two main ways corporate communications teams can get a handle on employees’ pressing concerns. One is to use informal employee surveys. Another is to check the internal analytics of employees clicking on search terms and HR “service now” type landing pages. For executives and business owners, these are the concerns to answer in an email, town hall, video or teleconference, tweet, or Facebook post. Always get out front and center of a looming crisis to ease anxiety. Treat the symptoms of fear with empathetic communication.

Prepare answers to these sample questions:

What if I can’t work from home?

Will I get severance if my job is cut?

Will there be daycare if I have to go in?

I have the sniffles, can I come to work?

Mitigate the confusion. Don’t propagate it through silence.

Transparency’s Twin

Transparency and honesty go hand in hand (at this writing, ideas are exempt from “safe distancing” mandates). If stakeholders pose questions that you don’t have complete information about, the answer isn’t to provide a vague response. Your organization would pay too high a price in reputational harm were they accused of deflection or misrepresenting information. Instead, promise that your team will get the facts and offer clear action steps once the details are known.

Some stakeholder concerns will be redundant. We’ve all seen the daily pressers given by the President and his team of officials, along with the slew of local municipal, state and regional administrators. They get boring after a while. The meetings have gotten routine. Formulaic. That’s the nature of these updates. But guess what? The format and formality provide a measure of comfort as well. The simple act of communicating what might seem to be boring facts serves a dual purpose. It numbs the sting of knowing this crisis is still with us. The nightmare is not over, but at least somebody’s working toward ending it.

As corporate communicators, our role is to be a caregiver of data points that nudge people to a hopeful dot on the horizon. The horizon is where the sun sets every evening, leaving us in darkness. But it’s also where it rises every morning blanketing us with light. It’s up to us to tell the right story that will inspire people to remain hopeful and optimistic about the future. It is our job to demonstrate the best ways to use this time of solitude. Whether working or not working, we all have an opportunity for reflection of purpose. It is a chance to reset and restart with heart.

Do you need additional crisis communications support? If yes, please contact us today.


Crisis Communications During a Pandemic

An Executive’s Communication Toolkit to Tackle COVID-19