The last time I ran a communication program in a time of crisis, my two goals were to instill calm and create hope. The circumstances were very different from what we are facing right now but the same principles apply. 

For those leading teams or internal communication programs, I’d like to share what I’ve learnt about communicating in times of uncertainty in the hope that it helps you do your best work because your people need you. 

Put your own oxygen mask on first

It is almost impossible to communicate in a way that instills calm and creates hope if you’re not feeling calm and hopeful yourself. It’s like sending someone an email when you’re really angry with them – it’s hard to hide it in your tone and you say things you regret. Find a way to centre yourself. Ducking outside for a quick breath of fresh air or grabbing a cup of tea works for me. A quick chat with someone who takes a positive angle on life can also be helpful.

Put yourself in their shoes

Think of your team members as more than just employees. Think of what they are going through as partners, as parents, as sons & daughters, as granddaughters & grandsons, as brothers & sisters, and as friends. Chances are you’re feeling the same way. This will help you to show empathy.

Choose your words carefully

I was watching one of the Prime Minister’s recent addresses to the nation where he received a question from a journo who used alarmist language when asking about schools remaining open. Mr. Morrison commented that alarmist language is not helpful and implored the media to use more modest and measured language to avoid causing panic amongst parents. 

It’s a good message because the words we use can make a big difference. Writing down some key messages and words that you can use consistently can help. It takes a little bit of extra time upfront but when things are changing quickly, a bit of preparation will help you react quickly and appropriately. 

I also find reading written content aloud helps to check if the words sound positive and calming within the context. As a simplistic example, take the word peace. It’s a positive and calming word until it’s put in a phrase like “difficult to find peace”. 

Stick to the facts

This one is so important! Your team members are seeing and hearing information from many different sources, often with conflicting views. Only communicate what’s true and if you’re not sure, research it until you are or leave it out. 

Create a cause 

In uncertain times, people often feel helpless and want to know what they can do as individuals to make a difference. A cause gives people something to work for, something to hope for. Look for something that each individual can contribute to that brings people together. Typical causes include charities, fundraisers and change petitions. But we are not in typical times so the cause may need to be simpler and closer to home. For example, for teams working remotely, it could be related to keeping in touch with each other to stay connected. For teams that still need to go to work, it might be about taking care of each other to keep each other safe. Or maybe there’s a project the team can work on that is more important now than it ever has been.

Whatever cause you choose, continually communicate progress and success. Think of the fundraising efforts from the bushfires and how much hope it gave everyone to see the total volume of donations increase. What’s the equivalent measure of success for the teams’ cause and what stories can you share to encourage them to keep going. 

Say thank you

I was chatting to someone recently who was generally happy at work but wished that her boss would say thank you once in a while for all the hard work she does. It’s such a simple thing to say but often forgotten. A heartfelt thank you means a lot and can really help people through tough times.

On that note, thank you for reading this article. I hope it was helpful and if you find yourself stuck and wondering what to say to your team, reach out to me at melissa@epiphanyeffect.com.au or PM me at https://www.facebook.com/epiphanyeffect and I’ll give you a hand.