Communicating Effectively Through a Crisis

Communicating Effectively Through a Crisis

The tsunami and nuclear emergencies in Japan are very worrisome and sad. Certainly our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of this great and proud nation.

We are certain that Japanese government officials and nuclear power facility representatives are trying to do the best they can under these extreme circumstances. However, they have been criticized for the lack of information and the "accuracy" (truthfulness) of the information they give out to the Japanese public, and the world really, about the situation with the nuclear reactors.

We can take away some communication lessons from this horrible crisis in Japan and apply it to any critical situation.

It is vitally important to effectively communicate on three basic levels:

  • Timely communication
  • Accurate communication
  • Empathetic communication

Timely Communication

You cannot ignore the crisis. It's not going to go away. The more you ignore the problem the worse it's going to be and the worse you will look. Whether you need to deliver the bad news to the press, employees, customers, stake holders or the general public, to save some type of credibility, you must get out in front of the emergency and speak the truth.

  • Have a plan in place - this will help you communicate faster
  • Make a statement as soon as possible
  • And communicate often - hour-upon-the-hour or daily - as appropriate
  • If you have some time, practice your message with an objective individual
  • But do communicate NOW!

Truthful Communication

DO NOT lie! Under any circumstances don't play with the numbers, don't play with the facts and don't think no one will find out. They always find out and the truth always comes out. You will lose all credibility if you give out false or misleading information. The press for example are experts at finding out the truth - that's why they became journalists, to find accurate information and expose falsehoods.

  • Have all the facts in place
  • Don't state conjecture, projections or guesses - just the facts
  • Have experts in whichever field to back you up with more facts
  • Have additional materials to give out to those that request it
  • Stick to the facts and nothing else

Empathetic Communication

Nothing will turn people against you quicker than if they believe you do not care about them or the situation. During the 2008 financial crisis in the US and the Louisiana oil spill, executives connected to these emergencies came across as detached, uninterested, callous and ultimately as untrustworthy. Whether you are announcing a business closing, a financial crisis or a environmental disaster, you must be able to connect to people and demonstrate that you care.

  • Your first statement must be about people and their well being
  • Act like you care or hire a spokesperson that can speak with empathy
  • State how you plan to make it right or fix the problem
  • And your last statement must be about people and your concern for them

Communicate effectively and often during an emergency. Don't let the crisis get in front of you, get in front of it. This demonstrates leadership, integrity and trust. You will be viewed as THE person (executive) that people can rely on and trust in a crisis situation. And this will bode well for you and your business under any circumstance.

Image: English Pen, "Simon Singh Press Conference", Via Flickr Creative Commons Attribution

Posted by Eli Hernandez on 03/15 at 12:53 PM in Public Relations

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