"In every crisis, doubt or confusion, take the higher path - the path of compassion, courage, understanding and love."
- Amit Ray
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken many nations across the globe by a storm. Everything from the way we live to the way we work has changed. Those who resisted change for a while now have also been arm-twisted to adapt to the alternate ways of living and working. On the darker side, economies might be moving to a phase of recession as businesses find it extremely difficult to operate smoothly amid this crisis. Most countries are either under lockdown or are practicing social distancing.
The chaos and the confusion caused by the COVID-19 outbreak is sure to create anxiety among all. But what can help in this time of crisis is consistent communication with a combination of empathy and compassion. And thanks to the presence of digital media, communicating virtually is no longer a challenge.
Leaders all over the world are using technology to communicate with people, inform them about action steps being taken to fight the crisis, rally their total support to avert spreading the crisis further, dispel an atmosphere of fear, foster trust that all nations are in together and that governments will support citizens during such testing times.
Communication is a hallmark of effective leadership during crisis times. Here’s what characterizes effective communication in times of crisis:
Communication and Consistency
The most important thing for organizations during this crisis is to ensure connections between people remain strong. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has acknowledged this need at the national level and urged everyone to come in their balconies or at their doors to light candles, diya, or torch or mobile’s flashlight to show that we are in this together.
This is not the first time that he addressed the nation. Eversince the pandemic has hit our country he has appeared quite a few times now on national television to share with everyone the latest updates and to express gratitude to those on the frontline just as all political leaders the world over have been doing. Similarly many business leaders are recording video messages addressing their employees and extended colleagues with great empathy. Whether it is Amazon's Jeff Bezos memo to the employees or the heartfelt video message of Marriott's President & CEO Arne Sorrenson, leaders are ensuring that the employees’ anxiety over job security and business continuity is kept in check.
As Abraham Lincoln once said, “If given the truth, people can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”
Communication and Compassion
During a crisis, the ability to show compassion to the people impacted can make the entire difference in whether you will succeed or fail in the long run. Acknowledging the efforts of those on the frontlines and addressing the challenges of affected employees in each video message or communication that leaders share is essential.
Leaders also have to actively listen to the needs of the people and create a forum where people can share their challenges and concerns. An open environment and a culture where highest importance is given to people’s safety and health is most important amid the current COVID-19 crisis.
Communication and Symbolism
Just as it is important to keep communicating consistently during a crisis to prevent fear, at the same time it is also important to reinforce a sense of hope and optimism. Human beings are emotional creatures and in dark times, even symbolic gestures help a lot in rallying people together for a common cause and keep their faith steady and strong during the crisis. It could be as simple as lighting candles together or switching off lights for some time simultaneously-sending out a message of solidarity-that we are all together in this. This is perfectly illustrated by the DNA of the Earth Hour movement, which implores people the world over to switch off lights at their home for an hour on a designated day at a designated time. The idea is simple- even a symbolic gesture like switching off lights together can rally so many people together for a common cause and becomes a way to communicate about the crisis and gather greater support. Hence even simple symbolism plays an important role when communicating in a crisis.
However, communication should not only be about symbolism. It should give those affected a clear idea of what’s in store for them, what they are expected to do, and what governments or organizations are doing for them in order to help them tide through the crisis. Ultimately, clear, consistent, and empathetic communication is what helps governments and management to effectively lead and navigate nations and organizations through times of crisis and otherwise as well.
"There's always an opportunity with a crisis. Just as it forces an individual to look inside himself, it forces a company to reexamine its policies and practices." - Judy Smith
Relook at your leadership style and people practices to move in tune with the times to sail through this storm.