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How to Communicate During Times of Crisis

Anyone can be a leader in times of need.

By Rob Sherman, Esq.

As we struggle to return some sense of normalcy to our lives after the September 11, 2001, World Trade Center attack, the nation as a whole yearns for leadership so its people can find strength.

This same yearning for leadership holds true in the business environment. Employees will seek guidance from company leaders as to how business will continue and ways to cope with the tragedy. It’s important to note that during times of crisis, company executives are not the only leaders. Anyone, from a receptionist to a salesperson, to the head of marketing, can be a leader and assist his or her fellow workers in times of need.

No matter how you view yourself or what organizational position you hold, you have leadership qualities that come to the surface during times of crisis. While it’s true that many presidents of multi-million-dollar companies inspire employees through their words and actions, anyone can take simple steps to show others a calm sense of confidence that is essential to courageous leadership.

Today more than ever, there is a tremendous need for leaders within the business world to step forward. People are looking to you for stability, reassurance, confidence, and a sense of control over their own lives. Whether you’re an employee or a supervisor, here are some tips you can use to offer hope for the future to those in your organization.

  1. Communicate honestly and to the best of your ability.

    America’s sense of security and safety has been breached. People are fearful of conducting their normal activities, and their first inclination may be to stay home and hide. Even if they are located hundreds or thousands of miles away from the attack site, they will still have a foreboding sense of uneasiness, and they will seek reassurance from anyone willing to give it. Therefore, they will want answers to some pressing questions. As a leader, it will be up to you to respond as honestly as possible. Some questions to anticipate are: “Am I safe?” “Is my job in jeopardy?” and “What will happen to me and my family?”

    Being direct and truthful about any question will build your credibility and enhance your leadership status. If you don’t know the answer to a particular question, say so. Even though the question remains unanswered, the asker will appreciate your empathy and honesty.

  2. Re-evaluate the company’s values and mission.

    Go back to the value and mission statements that guide your company. If these principles don’t seem relevant to today’s crisis, develop a new purpose statement called “The Principles that will Guide our Company During This Time of Crisis.” Appoint a group of individuals who will draft the principles and circulate them to everyone. Encourage input about the content from every employee in order to make the principles cohesive.

    Once the principles are drafted and distributed, use them to guide company decision-making during the crisis. Because people desperately want guidance, you won’t have difficulty achieving buy-in from the entire workplace. To further reinforce the principles, include them in memos, newsletters, and anything else that is appropriate.

    Using the events at the World Trade Center in September as a model, here is a sample of guidelines that can assist organizations through the aftermath:

    The Principles of XYZ Company During This Time of Crisis

    The following principles will guide the actions of our company during this time of crisis:

    • We will cherish the values that have guided this great nation through the evils that face the world.
    • We will do all things necessary to support our government’s efforts to protect our future and our children’s future.
    • We will support the efforts of all relief organizations.
    • We will do all things necessary to offer a secure environment for our employees to work.
    • We will recognize the needs of our employees to find ways to grieve and we shall support them in those efforts.
    • We will ensure that our employees of Middle Eastern descent work in a safe and secure environment.
    • We will listen to our employees’ fears and concerns and share information with them honestly and in a timely manner. In doing so, we will implement initiatives that best serve the interests of both the company and the employees.

     

  3. Talk and listen to co-workers and employees.
    Now is the time to employ a management style often refereed to as “Management by Walking Around.” Talk one-on-one with employees and co-workers. Let them know you care about their concerns, and truly listen to what they have to say. If you can’t personally relate to what employees are feeling, acknowledge those feelings and empathize with them. This is not a time to give advice or change opinions. It’s simply a time to listen and offer support. If there are people connected to those who lost their lives, allow them to grieve. Offer your condolences and support them during this time by listening to what they feel they must say. Ask them how they would like the company to respond to the tragedy. A moment of silence or prayer may be appropriate during certain times. If necessary, refer them to a grief counselor or other professional for additional assistance.
  1. Build a unified team environment.
    If any of your employees or co-workers are of Middle Eastern descent, do all you can to protect them from any misdirected emotions. Let everyone in the organization know that harassment will not be tolerated--on or off company grounds. Instill a greater feeling of camaraderie among all
    employees by allowing them to speak to each other in a group setting and air their feelings. Encourage those of Middle Eastern descent to speak as well and to show support for the nation and the company. Another idea to bring people together is to organize a way to support the national relief efforts. As a company, donate blood, raise funds, or find some other outlet to contribute to disaster relief organizations.
  1. Speak whenever possible to assert your leadership.
    There will undoubtedly be many occasions for you to address your co-workers and employees. Whether it is at a formal meeting or a small gathering by the water cooler, take advantage of every opportunity to help those in need find the support and assurance they crave. Whenever you
    speak, show calm and reasoned judgment, and most important, listen to how your audience responds. The more you take advantage of speaking opportunities, the more your organization will feel your sense of leadership.

Communicating effectively during a crisis situation is never easy, but it is essential for the business world to get back on track. Regardless of the crisis, honest, frank communication is what your organization desires. Your ability to demonstrate these qualities is what leadership is all about.

Rob Sherman is an attorney, speaker, and author of Sherman’s 21 Laws of Speaking: How to Inspire Others to Action. He is the founder of the Sherman Leadership Group based in Columbus, Ohio. He can be reached through www.ShermanLeadership.com, or emailed at RobSherman@ShermanLeadership.com.

 

 


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