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6 Tips for Successful (Crisis) Communication


Crisis pixCrisis communication is important today with the 24 hour news cycle and the speed and accessibility of information on the Internet.

Last week Karen Albritton, president of Capstrat, a communication agency in Raleigh, NC took this subject head-on at a Durham Chamber Executive Lunch series.  Capstrat specializes in this tricky business of crisis communication.

How often does something unexpected happen and we are not sure how to respond?  In crisis, that effect gets magnified many times!

Karen shared the first important thing is to know when you are in a crisis.  For companies, that can include a laundry list of events:

  • product or service failure,
  • an onsite event,
  • an employee action that does not align with the company,
  • regulatory and media scrutiny,
  • natural disasters,
  • criminal activity,
  • management transitions,
  • implementation of a new technology.

The list goes on – any expected or unexpected event which can affect your regular business operations may be called a crisis.

Having a plan to come out of the crisis faster is important.  It seems hard to plan for every eventuality but Karen suggests 1) having a system that monitors for impending crisis, 2) a scenario plan and 3) to know who your key stakeholders and to have easy access to their contact info for communication purposes.

What got interesting for me was her description of how to communicate in a crisis.  Her suggestions align with Skillful Means principles of effective communication in daily life.

In a crisis:  1. Respond quickly.  

In daily life:  Being aware of timing in communication is critically important to get results.

In a crisis:  2. Show empathy. –        

In daily life:  Have a bigger vision in the back of the mind when communicating with others.  Always asking yourself, what is best for everyone involved?

In a crisis: 3. Share what you are doing to address the crisis.  Be transparent.  

In daily life:  Honest communication is key to effective communication.  No games, no gossip, be secret agendas

In crisis:  4. State the facts.                

In daily life:  Leave emotional baggage out of the conversation as much as possible.  Emotions are typically about the past.  Face what is happening now.

In a crisis:  5. Never speculate.          

In daily life:  Projecting or layering your own story onto a situation is not helpful.  It is very easy to do this!  Too often this is our ‘opinion’.

In crisis:  6. Don’t say ‘no comment’.    

In daily life:  When there is not enough communication, there is confusion, resentment and alot of time (and money!) wasted.

How does crisis communication typically happen? 

My experience is many leaders go into a bit of a ‘bunker’ mentality, fearful that any communication will make things worse. 

Karen emphasized this action actually makes things worse.

Practicing effective communication on a daily basis can really help once a crisis hits.  Being well practiced, you will more naturally ‘know’ what to do.

Thanks to Karen and the Chamber for giving us a great jump on this.

What do you think is most important in crisis communication?  Do you have examples of successes and missteps?  Please share your thoughts so we can all learn.

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