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  • Marnie Suss

why the best leaders practice crisis communications everyday

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

Crisis communications represent a distinct approach to both internal and external communication. While typically reserved for extreme circumstances, the core values of respect, empathy, and transparency are powerful in every day communications. In contrast to routine, transactional communications, crisis communication principles offer a more focused and empathetic approach to handling sensitive situations.


common communication traps


In recent years, we've witnessed companies navigate mass layoffs and reorganizations. Some have executed these changes smoothly, while others, like the infamous CEO who fired 900 employees via zoom serve as a cautionary tale.


There is no 'right way' to navigate such impactful changes, but there is a better way than, ironically, Better.com chose.


By recognizing that internal organizational changes constitute a crisis, leaders can shift their communication strategy. They should aim to transform transactional exchanges into connective communications, which emphasize empathy and create a stronger bond with recipients.


On the opposite end of the spectrum, leaders can be too emotional or vulnerable to the point they convey they are the “victim” or “equally” impacted by the decisions. This approach usually is also not well received either as it shifts the focus to themselves and shows lack of responsibility or accountability.


By thinking about change management and everyday business challenges with a crisis communications mindset, leaders then shift the focus from a transactional communication to a connective communication.


Effective communications:

  • Weave empathy and clarity to demonstrate compassion and respect.

  • Deliver tough and complex information with simplicity to create a common understanding.

  • Take accountability for their role to build trust.

  • Promote transparency to deter misinformation and build credibility.

  • Convey measured vulnerability to foster relatability.

With these objectives in mind, leaders can set the tone, craft language, and provide relevant information that will be received and understood by the recipient(s).


anatomy of a crisis communication


In crafting an effective communication, it's important to account for the mental and emotional stress of the recipient. Here are five core elements to consider:


1. Recognize the common feelings associated with the situation, but keep it short and simple.


There are no words of condolence that will soothe stress except the desired information.


2. Tell them what you know and don’t know.


Share the facts without personal commentary. When people are in stress they can consume facts more easily than opinions. Opinions or commentary can be misinterpreted or create distrust.


3. Manage expectations upfront.


Anticipating questions and answers is important to get ahead of the message and manage expectations. Some information will be unknown for a period of time. That’s ok, but it's important to communicate when and why the information may be delayed.


4. Plan for the next update.


This is important in a crisis, but also effective change management strategy. It demonstrates confidence, clear direction, and strategic implementation of change. By setting an expectation for regular updates it shows respect toward the audience, even if the updates are not always significant.


5. Commit to actions and follow through.


One of the worst strategies leaders can take is lack of follow through. This is one of the top reasons leaders lose trust, credibility, and respect of their teams, peers or audience. Most people understanding that direction and circumstances can change, that’s ok, but when they do, it's important for leaders to communicate the change and why it changes the planned actions.


By incorporating these core elements into their communication strategies, leaders can establish stronger connections with their teams and stakeholders. This approach not only applies to crisis situations but also enhances day-to-day interactions.



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