Fear and uncertainty are bad enough in our personal lives. But when you're a manager facing lots of scary unknowns, you need to adopt a two-prong approach: find a way to cope individually and then devise a strategy to reassure employees.
The way you communicate to your team during a crisis can largely determine what comes next. Workers look to their bosses for cues on how to gauge the severity of a problem, whether it's a lawsuit that rocks the organization, the loss of a major account or a public-relations nightmare. If you level with people, you can help them withstand adversity and make the best of a bad situation.
Some managers get ensnared in the "fog of war," where they misinterpret what's going on and make misguided decisions a result. Or they may let their fears or mounting pressures displace their sound judgment.
To communicate forcefully in a crisis, apply these three techniques:
1. Gather accurate information. It's often tough to obtain up-to-date, concrete data that relate to a rapidly unfolding organizational problem. Rumors and misconceptions interfere with clearheaded analysis and can trigger panic.
2. Plan your message and subsequent action steps. In fast-moving crises, you may need to improvise on the fly. But whenever possible, weigh the facts before taking action. Plan the best ways to communicate with employees. Frame your message so that you balance optimism with a straightforward characterization of what’s wrong and what caused the problem.
3. Listen more than you speak. At some point, you'll need to take center stage and tell your team what's happening—and how bad it is. But that doesn't mean you should do all the talking.