11 Tips for Communicating in a Crisis

Covid19 has quickly changed our life and how we work in ways we couldn’t have imagined even a month ago. Right now, the communication demands for leaders are greater than for any previous organizational change that most of us have ever experienced.

These tips for communicating with intent and purpose can help you keep your credibility and the trust of your team.

  1. Be visible early and often. This is no time to hang back or expect others to take the lead. In times of crisis, the team needs to hear from leaders soon to give the facts and provide reassurance. Be visible and accessible frequently.
  1. Don’t make stuff up. Know the facts. In uncertain times you won’t have all of the facts. This doesn’t give you license to guess or wing it. Be specific and share what you know for sure. Don’t speculate.
  1. Be calm. Calmness is contagious. A calm demeanor reassures others and promotes confidence that we’ll get through this together.  Calmness also conveys that wise and thoughtful decisions are being made.
  1. Share specific and simple next steps. In chaos and confusion, it is reassuring to know specifically what to do right now. If you can only see out 3-4 days – that’s ok. Say what must be done now. Follow up on prior commitments, share progress and what was completed or explain why there was a delay. Small steps forward build reassurance.
  1. Give realistic hope. Realistic hope means that you are positive about the future while also realistic and honest. It will get better.
  1. Talk about what is in your control. Lack of control and misaligned expectations create frustration and anxiety. Guide others to spend energy on what is in your control and work that list. Acknowledge what is out of your control. A global pandemic and its impact on our health and the economy is bigger than us – but how we adapt to it and how we spend our energy is on us.
  1. Share personal stories of progress and contribution. Real stories of how people are contributing and improving the situation give us all hope. Healthcare workers are our heroes – especially now, but find the helpers contributing in your organization. These examples give us both ideas and help us remember the good around us.
  1. Take the tough questions. It’s part of being accountable – listen to the hard questions and answer as best you can. Have the confidence to hear from those who may be frustrated, disagree with decisions or feel uncertain.  This openness brings reassurance and provides accurate information.
  1. Be ready to say, “I don’t know”. Rely on people who do. In times of crisis and high change, don’t speculate or give the answer you hope for vs. the truth. Rely on internal or external experts who may know more than you do.
  1. Check in individually. You work with some who are merely inconvenienced by the changes from Covid19. Yet, for many, these times have created major problems for their families. Rather than rely on group Zoom calls, emails or other team communications, know when to make a call and ask, ‘How are you?’ Checking on each other shows concern and support.
  1. Recreate informal fun virtually. When your team can’t meet for lunch or catch up in the hallway – support the virtual replacement. I have had the option to work virtually for 20 years – so it’s very normal for me. But, in these times I really miss the human connection of conversations over lunch and in person meetings. Our team has had great success with virtual happy hours and lunches. We often have one fun or easy topic, but most of the time is spent catching up on the kids, new puppies and showing up in fashionable masks. We feel connected when we keep that informal fun – especially now.

How we connect and communicate in these uncertain times can make all the difference for our teams and for us. Stay safe and strong. It will get better.

Patti Johnson is the CEO of PeopleResults