When in a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, our instinct is to close ranks to minimise the impact on us and to aim to get back to normality as soon as possible. People, companies and even countries go into protection mode – however, this approach can go badly wrong as demonstrated by the Europe’s response to the coronavirus where protectionists strategies prevailed initially.
Close down communication
In January, China was reluctant to share and communicate about its COVID–19 problems. The UK Government often appears reluctant to share as much as journalists would like and it can lead to a vacuum that people fill with speculation and misinformation.
When communication channels are closed, communication does not stop. The reality is it can often increase fuelled by rumour, half-truths, speculation and even exaggerations. When communication is lacking, employee trust and confidence is undermined. The best thing to do in a crisis is to communicate the facts and issues clearly, concise, frequently, quickly, and consistently.
Top Tip #1: Staying in Control
It is essential that you stay in control of communication during a crisis. Here are Exponential’s ‘5 Cs of communication’ that can help when communicating bad news:
- Clarity: Clarity is always important when communicating but even more so during a crisis. Aim to leave no room for ambiguity or confusion by making messages simple. The clearer your message, the more people will believe you are disclosing everything they need to know. If your message is vague, it might suggest that you are hiding something or only sharing part of the information. If you need to consider redundancies, then say so. If you need to furlough, then say so.
- Concerns: People value trust, openness and honesty. A good starting point is to focus attention on your audience’s needs and concerns. If you build your communication around you, your organisation or around ‘damage control’ you will appear disingenuous and risk losing people’s trust and loyalty. Often, simply telling it like it is, no worse and no better, is the best policy!
- Competence: To retain people’s trust and respect, you need to give them confidence that you can manage the situation. You can do this by assuring your audience that you have taken the appropriate advice from experts and implemented the necessary actions. You can build confidence and trust by explaining your reasons for the actions you have taken. You need to be assertive and proactive and share your plans.
- Confidence: Communicating assertively and decisively helps to build people’s trust and confidence in you and your decisions. Fear is usually generated by people who feel ‘out of control’ therefore generating a sense of being in control and communicating with sincerity and honesty helps build confidence.
- Control: Problems occur and escalate when you lose control of the message. This is when misinformation and speculation take over. One way of retaining control is to prepare and implement a simple communication plan.
By using these ‘5 Cs’, it is possible to ensure the messages you need to share are accurate, believed, are heard and are trusted.
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