Will your crisis communications plan be ready for the next coronavirus?
Director, Public Relations
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Across the nation, the arrival of the month of June has brought forth a ray of glistening fresh hope and optimism, and the reasons are countless. Not only has the unofficial start of summer commenced – a reason to clink chilled rosé as is – but for the vast majority of the country, governmental restrictions borne out of the COVID-19 pandemic are gradually being lifted, allowing a more generous freedom of movement.
Despite its limitations, this directive has started to resemble a life that up until recently, we could only recollect in pictures and videos taken when we ever-so-innocently rang in 2020. With pomp and circumstance radiating in the air (even if caps are being tossed from moving vehicles rather than crowded auditoriums or football fields), it’s a time for joy, celebration, and reflection.
In addition to the change of seasons and a reawakened spirit, June has ushered in what could arguably be considered the most profound and striking national holiday to date: National Effective Communications Month. Whether in our personal lives or within the workforce, the art of interpersonal communication is irrefutable.
Not only is it considered the vital key to success in navigating the complex waters in the interaction and exchange of information between parties, but at its basic core, it’s a practice that binds us together as unique individuals. A shared language that crosses vast barriers across the human race, although communication is often synonymous with verbalization, non-verbal communication is equally important in reinforcing our expressed ideas, opinions, and feelings, and furthermore, improving our ability to relate, engage, and establish meaningful relationships.
While we have ushered in June with open arms, it’s also arrived at a critical crossroads in American history. Over the past six months, we’ve not only been taken for a ride by the wave of the Coronavirus – an alarming, highly infectious disease void of a cure – along with three months of a national economic shutdown, we’re now thrust into the infancy stages of the rebuilding and recovery process without a blueprint to follow.
Additionally, within the last few weeks, our country has also been embroiled by national civil unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of white police officers that hasn’t been seen since the late 1960s, with ubiquitous protests against racial injustice found in nearly every city. Calls have grown for those in public office and in the public domains – brands, companies, executive leadership, and celebrities – to immediately respond and take action. One might conclude that communication, or lack thereof, has been a defining motif in the year 2020.
With so much at stake, it’s no longer acceptable or advisable to lurk in the shadows and conduct corporate communications with a business-as-usual attitude. With a new day – and season – on the horizon, we must adhere to these basic, but often glazed upon, principles that are embodied by the best communication practitioners in the world:
1.) Active Listening
Successful communication is not always about what you have to say, it’s about how well you’re paying attention and listening to what’s being conveyed. As a recipient listener, practicing active two-way communication can arguably be considered quite the oxymoron, as one of the most invaluable tools to demonstrate exceptional mastery is in the form of engaged body language cues.
Everyone possesses the right to believe that their thoughts, whether expressed in oral or written form, are appreciated and valued in a safe environment. By investing into this communication technique with maintained eye contact, gentle head nods, smiling, and verbal affirmations, you indicate to the speaker that you’re not simply hearing them, but listening to them, and recognizing the validity of their comments.
How is empathy defined? Simply stated, empathy is the ability to place yourself into another person’s shoes and understand their feelings, thoughts, and beliefs. Organizations have started to recognize the value of developing empathy in the workplace.
Emotional acceptance practices have become pivotal in reshaping the corporate landscape where at one time, someone else’s perspective could be readily dismissed and berated, especially when it involved highly-charged and controversial issues. By invoking sentiments of an emotional attachment with another’s point-of-view and accepting their position rather than denouncing or dismissing it if you don’t agree, you can better understand and accept their belief system.
Collaboration is one of the most commonly cited values that most companies pride themselves in, and is often utilized as a reinforced recruitment tool to assure potential employees that within those four corporate walls, collaboration is not “an”, but rather “the”, operational backbone that draws the best talent and allows everyone to thrive.
To run a successful business, it’s imperative that every team member understands the shared purpose and goals with their division or department so they can more effectively visualize what they can offer related to their own purpose. As people, we flourish when connectivity is involved, and to do so, it needs to be continuously nurtured at both the individual and team level to build relationships, trust, and ultimately, cohesion.
When it’s your turn on stage with the metaphorical microphone in your hand, is your strategy sound? One of the most erroneous and rookie errors in speech communication is not taking sufficient time to think about how your words will be interpreted.
While you’re not always able to precisely predict how people will respond, you can prepare yourself in advance by anticipating probing questions that will require you to defend your position. While practicing, ask yourself open-ended questions that begin with “What,” “How,” “Please explain,” and “Describe” so you can prepare to clarify any points that may be ambiguous or unclear.
5.) Conflict Resolution
Although conflict resolution has often been construed as a negative experience within any setting, seasoned communication practitioners will rightfully refute this claim and dismiss it as a misnomer. Rather, by merging objective-based active listening skills and problem-solving abilities, it can prove to be a great opportunity to uncover underlying problems that may exist under the surface.
By immersing yourself into the mediation process and formulating a mutual plan of action with those involved, you’ll allow the other party to move forward with constructive support in their back pocket.
National Effective Communications Month may only arrive once a year, but its shelf life is not restricted to 30 days. As we continue to confront the predictable daily roadblocks in our lives as individuals and work professionals, we must also remember that catalysts of change – whether sparked by environmental, social, political, or global health triggers – will unquestionably arise.
While certain precipitating factors are beyond our immediate control, polishing your communication skills to better handle these situations is well within your power so that when the time does arrive, it will make you shine brighter than any ray generated by the summer solstice.
Contact SWBR to see how we can perfect your brand’s internal and external communications strategy all year round.