Keeping Others Calm in a Crisis

By Jamie McDaniel, Canadian Management Centre

If you are in a leadership position these days, chances are you are managing anxiety on two levels - your own uncertainty about what the future will bring as well as the needs of those looking to you for information and reassurance.

These communications are delicate and high stakes: you want to be honest, avoid causing unnecessary alarm or distress, and leave your audience with confidence that the situation is being managed as well as possible and with their interests in mind. This timely article from HBR’s Allison Shapira offers five steps found to be effective with Fortune 500 companies as well as the airline industry.

Here are some ideas we found particularly helpful.

“When you feel anxiety, you transmit that to others.” This is not a case of fake it ‘til you make it. If you are freaking out on the inside, you are unlikely to be able to hide it. Keep in mind that your nonverbal signals—expression, tone, posture, gestures—actually outweigh the words you are speaking when it comes to communicative load.

This means you can recite a wonderful speech filled with wisdom and comfort and still leave your audience panicking at the end. So, figure out how to calm yourself before you get on that video conference, whether that means a few deep breaths, a visualization or a power pose. More great ideas can be found in this Greater Good article from UC Berkeley

“Do your research” People do not need 100% certainty to feel reassured, and they most definitely do not need vague assurances, empty promises or a window into your own muddled brain. Credible, concise, clear information is of great value, even if it is incomplete. In our current reality, this should include sharing helpful local and national news and scientific data from trustworthy sources, as well as updates on how your industry and organization are being affected by the evolving situation.

“Do a thorough strategic analysis of who you are communicating to.” If your message is not tailored to the concerns of your listeners, the chance that it will have the intended effect is very low. We suggest taking the time to sit down, take your audience’s perspective, brainstorm the questions that are likely top of mind. Then, consider how you can best answer them and address their most pressing concerns.

In planning your communication, we also suggest you explicitly identify what you want your audience to know, believe, feel and do as a result of your message. Having a clear action plan is hugely helpful as it gives your listeners a sense of control. Follow the link to Allison's article for a more detailed guide to communication in times of fear and ambiguity.

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