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Communicating in a Crisis: What to Say When Your Team Fears the Worst


Will the coronavirus and quarantining ever end?

Will there be (more) layoffs?

Why am I working 12-hour days from home?

Today’s reality combined with the daily flood of news is pretty grim. Those questions above… they’re on your team’s mind – even if they aren’t asking them out loud. The good news is that the coronavirus and quarantining will end eventually, our country will survive this, and you better not sell your stocks — they’re already beginning to bounce back.

Despite what you may know is an inevitable rebound, employees might not feel so optimistic right now. They may be hypervigilant: sucked into the news, pulled in like a magnet, googling updates and being caught up in the tidal wave of it all. It means they’re probably feeling a bit fearful at the moment. 

Here’s the problem with that: fear leads to stress, and stress leads to negative behaviors, which turn into negative outcomes in productivity, creativity and quality of work. 

Your words, energy and actions — whether positive or negative —  trickle down to your employees and give direction to their own thoughts and behaviors. 

So what do you say when your team fears the worst? Here are seven strategies to steady the team during a crisis. 

Embody Stability

Louder than words, our actions and the energy they give off create a powerful current. In fact, the University of Bielefeld concluded that energy is contagious, and that our mood changes as we interact with different people throughout the day.

What impact does your presence have? 

Leaders should routinely embody stability. You want team members to look at you, listen and think, “Everything is under control. We will be okay.” Be the credible, grounded authority they trust in times of chaos.

Leverage Past Successes for Reassurance

How am I so confident things will turn around? Review the past 20 years; we’ve lived through 9/11, the dot bomb, Bird Flu, the 2009 housing bubble burst. Not to mention a war in the Middle East, and multiplying natural disasters. We bounced back every time. 

To shine hope in your organization, review past facts. List hardships your team dealt with before and how they overcame obstacles. Remind everyone that they’ve prevailed through tough times before, and they will again.

Use Trust-Building Language

In times of stress, people look to those they can trust. Whether you’re talking with a team member one-on-one or sending out a company-wide email, use language that builds trust. Here are some common do’s and don’ts to pay attention to:

  • Avoid absolutes. For example, “always” and “never” are rarely accurate, so don’t use them to reinforce your message.
  • Speak clearly and to the point. Vague responses raise suspicion and confuse people, leaving them to make up their own stories – and that’s never good.   
  • Get comfortable saying, “I don’t know that answer yet.” “I don’t know” is a perfectly legitimate response to a tough question. Let people know when you might know important information and how it would be shared.

Build People’s Personal Confidence

Words of encouragement from leaders go a long way toward empowering people to believe that they will be victorious. It also helps in brightening up the mood around the virtual office; redirect everyone’s focus to what can be done to further the company’s objectives. 

Clarify Short-Term Goals and Refresh Priorities Weekly

The constant swirl of bad news and ambiguity can easily de-focus everyone and derail productivity. A leader’s job is to keep everyone on track. Your best approach in a crisis is to have a consistent communication cadence which gets people focused on small steps and near-term goals that are actionable and achievable. 

Create Open Dialogue

Plan time each week for a group huddle or “office hours” where you check-in with people less formally than a status meeting. See what others are up to and create an environment for people to share whatever is on their mind. You might be pleasantly surprised that people are doing well and want to talk about the positive things they are experiencing. 

What Matters Most 

As an executive or leader, what matters most is how you shepherd your people through the storm. When the crisis has passed, you want to have weathered this storm with the least possible wear and tear on your team and business. Exceptional communication from leaders will GREATLY reduce your team’s stress and help employees feel a sense of stability, focus and productivity. 

One final consideration: these are stressful times for everyone – including yourself. Take time to manage your own stress. Ground your thinking about how you want to navigate this situation. Then, create a strategic narrative that feels authentic, calming and empowering. 

People are looking to their leaders to shepherd them through this crisis and through intentional and productive words and interactions, we can do that.  If you are an executive struggling to lead from a distance, I am here to help. Contact me today to schedule a resiliency coaching session. 


ALERT! Working Parents … You Just Got Promoted to TEACHER!

working parents

When I found out that my three elementary-age kids would be off for three weeks due to the COVID-19 outbreak, I took the notice in stride. After all, what’s three weeks? It’s a blink of time. 

But when I read the news that California schools were to be closed for the remainder of the school year…I flashed back to Supernanny and chaotic visions of overwhelmed parents sitting at a computer in the middle of the family room, trying desperately to get work done while kids were running around screaming, creating a mess and making endless requests for help and attention. Always a nightmarish scene leaving the parents exhausted, hopeless and at the end of their rope.  

Now that Supernanny situation could become true for many working parents…and I’m not ready!

Or am I? YES. As I sit here three weeks in, I realize that this is totally doable…and that there are a lot of silver linings to be found if we just look for them. I also realized that I’m far more prepared for this moment that I thought I was…and you might be too.

To help you through this dynamic time as a family, I’ve created a free resource, Scheduling for Success. It’s a comprehensive guide for working parents seeking to create routines that eliminate chaos, reduce stress and optimize productivity. You can download it here

Even though the homeschooling bit is new, I’ve worked from a home office for more than a decade and what these past three weeks have reminded me is that I’ve got this. Having a schedule and implementing these techniques has helped my husband and I create a (mostly) harmonious and productive environment for our family, and kids who are independent and generally willing to do their part. There’s no perfection here, yet I’m happy to share my best strategies to help you organize your household and get everyone operating as happily and productively as possible.  

Click here to download the free resource and feel free to share it with anyone who has kids and needs to get work done. Plus, when you download this resource, you’ll get access to our FREE resource center that includes a variety of resources designed to help leaders during this COVID-19 crisis. Here’s that link again: https://bit.ly/2xTLhl0 

I hope it helps. These next several weeks are going to test us all. In the process, we’ll be gaining skills, building character and becoming stronger and more resilient versions of ourselves…and so will our kids. I am wishing you the best and I’m here for you if you need help!