The ability to communicate effectively in the workplace is fundamental for business success, but it can be harder to achieve than we think. Too often, messages are misunderstood, intentions are misconstrued, and nuance is missed, and this is nowhere more likely to happen than in a crisis situation. In this short article, Impact consultant Sarah Osteen shares five quick tips for navigating out of a crisis through efficient and effective communication.
1. Look at the big picture: When faced with tight deadlines and high-stress meetings, it can become hard to make good decisions. With every important decision, ask yourself: ‘Will this action help my team/client carry out their strategy? Or am I actually making it more difficult?’ Such an approach is often reflected in people with high levels of emotional intelligence, as they are able to consider a range of perspectives at once. Rather than getting overwhelmed by day-to-day logistics, take time to understand the larger business ecosystem. The more knowledge you have of the current issues facing your customers, employees, industry and competitors, the better equipped you will be to communicate with each of them, and to help others do the same.
2. Be curious: As humans, we tend to assume we have complete information about something when, in reality, we are all limited by our own experience. As an executive coach, I have seen numerous crisis situations where leaders have made rash decisions without considering whether other members of their team could help. The only way to determine if you have a solid and complete understanding of a situation is to ask others. Use careful, non-accusatory language when doing so, for example: ‘I’m realising I don’t totally understand your perspective, can you explain how you see this situation?’ Inviting others to air their thoughts can be a powerful way to encourage the sharing of information and open the conversation in a new way.
3. Have empathy: Consider your interactions with a colleague who you feel frequently lets you or the team down. Ask yourself, ‘Have I made assumptions around their behaviour and assigned negative attributes?’ Most likely the answer is yes and your communication may be exacerbating the situation through subtle accusations. Remind yourself that the other person is a human too, and that they may well have legitimate reasons for their behaviour. This empathetic shift in attitude will be reflected in your interactions and will ultimately lead to better communication.
4. Avoid irrelevant information: Strategy plans that have proven bad for business do not need to be analysed in moments of crisis – you know they are bad. Rather than getting caught in the cycle of turmoil and frustration often associated with change, channel your energy towards data and critical information that will help you move towards a resolution, as well as focusing on the impact that your possible solutions may have on others.
5. Identify patterns: Before having a difficult conversation, it can be helpful to take a step back and consider the relevant information you have to help you craft a response. How has the other person responded to this type of situation in the past? What is their decision-making style? Consider the data you have at your disposal. If you don’t have enough of it, ask someone else who can share an objective perspective or who has unique insight into the other person and can help you plan an approach.
Have any of these techniques worked for you in a moment of crisis? What strategies have you used to teach yourself to communicate in new and more effective ways?
Sarah Osteen is a consultant at Impact US.