Effective communication as a leader is vital to the success of their employees. When a crisis hits, most employees turn to their employers as a source of trusted information. As a leader in an organization, your words and actions directly affect the wellbeing of the people you manage, and that influence is only amplified during a stressful situation. A leader can help their team feel safe, adjust to the situation at hand, and cope emotionally in uncertain times.
The basic tools of effective communication remain useful when there’s chaos: point to long-term goals, listen to stakeholders, open dialogues, and remain proactive in your communication with team members.
But what can you do to go above and beyond and develop superior crisis-specific communication skills? Ana Mendy, Mary Lass Stewart, and Kate VanAkin of McKinsey & Company outlined five practices that will help leaders to do exactly that.
Give People What They Need
During a crisis, information evolves and changes rapidly. As a result, leaders need to adjust their messaging accordingly to be able to provide timely and clear updates.
Not only do your team members need updated information, they also need clear-cut instructions on how to stay safe. Leaders must focus first on ensuring the safety of their employees, and secondly on instilling a sense of calm to quell fear and improve mental wellbeing. And when a high-stress situation ends, remain present to help your team members make sense of the crisis and its impact.
Keep It Simple and Positive
It’s harder to absorb information during a crisis, especially in the early stages. Keep your messaging as simple and clear as possible so it’s easier to understand and follow.
It’s also more effective to frame your messaging in a positive manner rather than a negative one. Instead of telling people what they shouldn’t do, outline best practices and benefits. People tend to listen better when hearing about the things that they should do.
The easiest way to lose the trust of your employees is to lie to them, and trust is never more important than in a crisis situation. Be honest about where things stand and don’t pose theories about the aspects that remain uncertain. You can also share some of your own feelings regarding what is happening. Doing so can help build trust and confidence between you and your team members, while also validating some of their own emotions that are similar.
Uncertain times hurt morale and can leave people feeling hopeless. As a leader, it’s important to accentuate the positive and create uplifting moments to instill resilience. Remind your team that the situation is temporary and that you must stick together as an organization to get through it.
When it’s all over and the chaos subsides, help your employees make sense of what has happened. Establish a clear vision for the future of your organization and share it with them. Explore ways to connect the disruption to an even bigger crisis, and openly discuss the different conclusions that each team member has drawn from the situation.
Following these practices will help your employees stay safe and facilitate understanding when your organization is faced with a crisis situation.
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You can read more about How to Communicate Effectively in Times of Uncertainty at McKinsey & Company.