What to say when things go wrong

IMG_1603This blog post is a little later than usual, because my Census contract has kept me particularly busy. Those of you in Australia will know a little of why that might be. Census night was a PR disaster.

People ask if I was stressed by that. No—there was no point in getting stressed over something that I had no control over—but let’s just say that it didn’t make my job any easier!

It made me realise that there are good ways and bad ways to talk to people when things go wrong. This is true in your business as well as in other aspects of life.

Communication during a crisis

When things go wrong in business, the important thing is to communicate well.

This means communicating quickly and efficiently, so that the people concerned recognise what the problem is, how it affects them and that you are solving it.

All crises have some common characteristics:

  • They are potentially damaging and often create doubt about the credibility of an organisation in the eyes of the clients, customers or the public.
  • They can create wrong or distorted perceptions. An organisation must be prepared to respond to any incorrect perceptions.
  • They are disruptive to the organisation.
  • Commonly, they take the organisation by surprise, and place the organisation in reaction mode, whereby it’s responding to rumours, comments, and hostile media.
  • They imply a lack of control.

This is why the organisation’s response to a crisis must be swift and competent.

Key actions:

  • Make sure you know the facts.
  • Be active, not reactive. Tell it all and tell it fast.
  • Own the problem, without pointing blame.
  • Lead the emotional tone of the situation. Make sure that people understand that you recognise the seriousness of the problem. Remain calm.
  • Communicate enough information to make people feel respected and valued, but not so much as to create anxiety, fear or frustration.
  • Classify the information into what is fact and what is rumour. Facts should be stated clearly and updated. Rumours should be verified or denied.
  • Stay honest. Don’t even tell white lies such as, “we will have this fixed by tomorrow” when no one knows how long it will take to fix.
  • Communicate a satisfying resolution. Take an extra minute to explain what should happen next. Make an extra effort to make sure things are good and the customers are happy. Ensure the customer knows you care.
  • Write everything down. Keep a record of what was said by whom to whom and at what time. This will help with the evaluation process afterwards.

Maybe your business has never had a crisis… yet.

How can you prepare for communication if one ever arose?

The best way to handle crisis communication is to have a plan in place for managing a crisis situation. Even if you don’t know what that crisis will be you should decide:

  • Who will talk to the media,
  • Who will be in charge of the decision-making,
  • How communication will be handled overall.

Your crisis communication plan should fit your organisation. Each crisis is unique, but for most crises this is what you will need to do:

  • Identify key audiences
  • Decide on a spokesperson
  • Provide guidance to the public
  • Develop messages
  • Communicate the messages and the facts
  • Anticipate the tough questions
  • Control the message
  • Control the flow of information
  • Keep track of media calls and requests
  • Respond to the news media quickly and fairly

Nobody can predict everything that can happen, but if you are prepared, you can handle the communication aspects of a crisis to achieve the best possible outcome for your organisation and all affected parties.



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