We've all seen major companies terribly wounded when the media senses a "cover-up." And we may also have seen situations where gossip has spiralled out of control with damaging results.
When official communication channels are shut down, communication does not stop. In fact, it can often increase. The problem is that this communication can be full of rumour, innuendo, inconsistencies, half-truths, and exaggerations. More than this, the trust and confidence of employees and clients can be undermined, with often-damaging long term consequences.
This is where the best thing to do in a crisis can be to communicate the facts and issues surrounding them clearly, quickly, and consistently.
What's important in a crisis is to stay in control of communication. These five Cs of communication that can help when communicating bad news:
By using the 5 Cs you contain the message of what you want said. If people are getting adequate, honest, and open information from you then they are less inclined to go searching for their own version of the truth.
These guidelines can help when communicating in the midst of a crisis or when anticipating a crisis will happen.
As a matter of routine, identify risks, prepare for worst-case scenarios, run "what if" analyses, and choose the set of actions that address your needs most effectively. If you've done this contingency planning in advance, when a crisis does occur, you'll have considered responses already in place.
Establish a crisis communication team if risks are serious or communication needs are significant. This team should consist of high-level officials in the organisation. Their role is to assess the nature and scope of the situation by consulting with others as required.
This person should be chosen from those who have the most direct knowledge of the situation – typically the highest-ranking person of the group. The more direct involvement the spokesperson has the higher his or her credibility, which enhances the confidence and competence factors for effective bad-news communication.
Draft a summary statement that includes all the appropriate details. Balance the information with respect to the stakeholders' right to know and the company's needs for privacy. This sheet is used to ensure the messages you give are consistently accurate.
Decide the most important message you want to convey. Tailor the rest of your communication around this message. Make sure that the key message has the right tone and provides the right context for delivering the message.
Before you finalise your key message try to think of all the questions you will get and address as many of them as you can in your communication package.
Decide how you are going to convey your message:
A good communications plan will release information to the media, employees, and other stakeholders at the same time. If that is not possible, ensure that your employees and other prime stakeholders find out directly from you first.
If you can, tell all the bad news, all at once. If you give it in spurts it can look like you're hiding things and not being totally honest. This doesn't mean you have to reveal everything: It means you have to reveal all that you need to reveal right from the start.
If you can't go into detail on something, be honest and say that you can't discuss that information at this time. If you don't know something, be honest about that too.
Try to see the situation from the audience's point of view. Deliver the message with the same sensitivity you would appreciate if you were in their position. Use humble, personal language and acknowledge the emotional elements involved in the situation. Try to emphasise the positive without minimising the negative.
This is the hardest rule to follow. For the sake of everyone hearing the message, keep as calm as possible. You need to convey control, confidence, and competence.
Corndel has created a publicly available Support and Resources Hub to help organisations navigate these challenging times. Please feel free to browse. This hub is updated continuously through this period.
This material has been sourced from mindtools and forms part of the 'Stretch Library of Resources' available to all Corndel Learners. More information on Corndel Diplomas.