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Get past mishaps with updates

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

Dan O’Sullivan was riding the subway in Boston when the train suddenly stopped. At first, his annoyance spiked. Then he was impressed.

O’Sullivan is co-founder of The Hired Pens, a copywriting agency. Soon after the train stopped, he began to wonder about the length of the delay—and whether he’d arrive on time for his meeting.

About 30 seconds later, however, the conductor announced over the intercom that “a signal problem” up ahead caused the train to stop. He added, “We have about eight trains in front of us, so we’re going to be here for awhile.”

While O’Sullivan wasn’t happy, he appreciated knowing what was going on and how the conductor leveled with passengers about the situation.

Every minute or two, the conductor gave informative updates. He kept alerting listeners of the dwindling number of trains still ahead.

O’Sullivan especially liked how the conductor set expectations. At one point, he told passengers that it would be “slow going through Kendall, then things should pick up.”

“Sorry about this,” the conductor said ten minutes into the delay. “It’s tough for me, too. It’s past my lunch time, and I’m starving.”

Thanks to the conductor’s adept handling of the situation, the crowd remained calm and good-natured.

The lesson for communicators facing problems: Give frequent updates so that people are not left in the dark. And inject occasional light humor and reinforce the “we’re all in the same boat” theme.

— Adapted from “A Lesson in Crisis Communication,” Dan O’Sullivan, www.thehiredpens.com.

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