Why Communication fails during a Crisis

The COVID situation has thrown the whole world into crisis. Leaders of all levels—from massive global organisations to small businesses—have been called on to exercise all of their communication skills so they can guide people through these trying times.

Crisis Defined

Crisis (noun) – “a time of intense difficulty or danger; a time when a difficult or important decision must be made.”

Reasons for failure

During a crisis, people automatically go into their panic stations.

As leaders, we want to make sure we do not react to crises with surprise. We always want to plan for the best and expect the worst. However, even the best leaders sometimes still fall down because of the following:

  • Fear and panic

These inhibit clarity. Peter Drucker once said, “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence, it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”

Notably, FEAR is really just False Expectations Appearing (as) Real.

We all have head junk a.k.a. the itty bitty shitty committee a.k.a. internal monologue. It’s the dialogue in our minds that’s not helpful at all since it triggers our fight-flight-freeze response.

This inbuilt mechanism kept us safe back in our caveman days. These days, what happens is most of the blood flows out of the brain into the muscles. We’re left with brains that have a hard time having cohesive thoughts.

  • Not knowing what the message is

During a crisis, we get caught up in the cycle of trying to tell everyone everything. So, we become unclear about our message.

One of my most favourite quotes is by Samantha Riley: “You can’t see the label from inside the jar.”

We get so caught up in the details that we don’t recognise where we are in a particular situation. As leaders, we need to use a helicopter view. Essentially, we zoom out of the situation, have a look down with a bird’s eye view, then look at the picture holistically.

  • Unclear communication channels

Who’s telling who what? Where is the communication coming from? What are the next steps?

These questions are just some that you need to include your communication plan.

Issues in Crisis Communication

Although each organisation has different specific issues when it comes to communication, there are four that affect them in general.


1. Too much information

Leaders become so busy covering every possible scenario that we dump too much information at once. This amount makes it hard for the audience to absorb the information. 2.


2.Too little information

On the flip side, some leaders go through analysis paralysis. We become too focused on communicating the right thing at the right time that we don’t communicate enough at all.


3. Consultative communication

Although leaders are encouraged to consult and talk with their teams, a crisis is usually not a good time for this tactic. When time is of the essence, consulting is not the most efficient way to go. Instead of consultative communication, lighthouse communication is a better and more efficient tactic.


4. Minimal prior planning

Crises often catch many leaders unprepared. We have no communication plans in place.

Conclusion

Remember that forewarned is forearmed. As leaders, we must institute plans in place around what needs to be done and how it can be communicated during a crisis. This enables us and our teams to act as soon as possible.

Do you have a communication plan for your business? Share them with me so we can explore possible gaps or improvements.


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