Communication in a Time of Crisis

Of all the tools that are available to leaders in a time of crisis, one of the biggest and most helpful is clear, candid, concise, accurate and timely communication. Why are we observing our public and political officials making daily news conferences one of their highest priorities each day? The answer is simple. When people find themselves in the midst of a crisis, they need their leaders to relieve their fears and uncertainties by communicating with them. The expression “you can’t over-communicate as a leader” is always an accurate reality in any leader’s life, but never more so than when leading in a crisis. Leaders are often criticized for under-communicating but rarely criticized for over-communicating. This is one of the most valuable lessons many leaders are learning as they find themselves leading in the midst of the coronavirus. As leaders, we must never forget it’s almost impossible to over-communicate in a crisis.

Success in any realm of life is always about executing the fundamentals. When it comes to leading in a crisis, there is nothing that is more fundamental to a leader’s success than a leader communicating with excellence. Integrity Leadership Development Inc. has consistently taught leaders that their communication paradigm must equate communication with understanding, rather than equating communication with talking. If understanding does not occur between individuals and groups when they are interacting with one another, communication has not occurred. A crisis creates a significant amount of “internal” and “emotional” noise that can prevent human beings from understanding one another. This noise, along with external physical noise, must be managed if people are going to understand, and be understood by others in a crisis like the one we are presently experiencing.

This leadership brief is designed to be a reminder to leaders that the ability to communicate effectively always begins with a leader’s ears, rather than a leader’s mouth. A crisis has a way of “speeding things up” for everyone, especially leaders. It is absolutely critical to the health of our followers, and our organizations that we “slow things down” through active, intentional and focused listening. If we are going to be in a position to make an accurate emotional assessment of our people in a crisis, it will require proactively listening to them. Leaders often lose sight of this reality, especially when they themselves get emotionally hijacked in a crisis.

The act of leading others is primarily a function of influencing and persuading others. This is done fundamentally through a leader’s relational and communication skills. In crisis, we must communicate honestly, transparently and consistently, refusing to point fingers or to shift blame. These communication patterns will relieve fears, reduce anxiety, answer questions, and provide hope, while instilling confidence in you as a leader and in the organization as a whole. Don’t worry about being criticized for over-communicating in this crisis. How you are using your two ears and one mouth in this crisis, in time, will most likely be the barometer of evaluating whether you were an effective leader in this crisis.