Three Crisis Management Communication Tips

Key Takeaways 

  • During times of uncertainty, leaders’ communication to their followers is more important than ever
  • Focus on simple messages; repeat them often; offer choices and think about values

As the pandemic still rages on, many people have opposing viewpoints on how to appropriately respond. You may find, for example, your staff divided on the effectiveness of wearing masks, among other relevant topics. This can create problems. As a leader, your communication strategies are especially crucial at this time. Below, I offer some tips for leaders to consider when sharing information about COVID-19 or other workplace risks.

  1. Make messages as simple as possible and repeat them often. For communication to be effective, it must be clear, direct and consistent. Focus on giving people instructions that are easy to interpret and understand. For example, rather than saying “Maintain a six-foot distance from other employees,” you might say “Avoid crowds in the office.” Make sure to repeat the same messages often. Research suggests that the more often people are exposed to something, the easier it comes to mind and the more likely people are to like and adhere to the guidance.[1]
  2. Present options as choices. When individuals are told what to do, they experience something known as “psychological reactance.” Reactance generates anger and negative emotions, and it makes people less willing to do what they’ve been told.[2] To combat reactance, one strategy is to give individuals a choice — or an illusion of choice. If you’re facing difficulties in getting employees to adhere to new office policies, present them with alternatives. For example, rather than saying “All employees must wear a mask,” you might say “All employees must wear a mask or work with their office door closed.” Make sure that you are comfortable and willing to accept all the options that you present.
  3. Connect with people through their values. Lastly, if you’re struggling to persuade individuals to adhere to new guidelines, think about their values as a source of motivation, and share messages that speak to those values. Research shows that tailoring messages to align with the values that an audience holds can make them more receptive to information, even if they have previously been biased against it.[3] For example, you might have an employee who does not believe that changes need to be made in the workplace to keep people safe from COVID-19. Rather than focusing on the value of safety, you could communicate to that person with a value that is relevant to them, such as economic benefit. Using these subtle shifts can help your communication be relevant to a wide range of perspectives.

In times of uncertainty, it is more important than ever for leaders to communicate and reinforce best practices for their followers. By being consistent, flexible and empathetic, you can reduce worry and help people navigate through this crisis.

[1] Montoya, R. M., Horton, R. S., Vevea, J. L., Citkowicz, M., & Lauber, E. A. (2017). A re-examination of the mere exposure effect: The influence of repeated exposure on recognition, familiarity, and liking. Psychological Bulletin, 143(5), 459–498.

[2] Brehm, J. W. (1966). A theory of psychological reactance. Academic Press.

[3]   Luong, K. T., Garrett, R. K., & Slater, M. D. (2019). Promoting Persuasion With Ideologically Tailored Science Messages: A Novel Approach to Research on Emphasis Framing. Science Communication, 41(4), 488–515.

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