Five tips for communicating in a crisis
27 Mar 2020

Five tips for communicating in a crisis – In conversation with Johan Bergstad

In an ongoing, external crisis, when do companies need to communicate? When the crisis escalates, how should they decide which management strategies to adopt? Paloma discussed insecurity, presence and approach with Johan Bergstad, psychologist, author and lecturer. Emerging from the conversation, here are five tips for corporate communications in a crisis. We feel they may prove invaluable, regardless of company size and sector. 

Signal early

To preclude questions, it is a good idea to state early on that you are monitoring developments. Which parts of your operations are affected by the prevailing conditions and which are not? Write a clear text and publish this in a standard newsletter or a separate, electronic mailout. Share it in your social channels and remember to add a share button to any information emails so that recipients can pass them on. Give details of any changes and current measures, even if they are minor. Explain any restrictions or recommendations that you are following. Deal with standard questions and get the message across that you are keen to continue your usual, good service.

Create contact

“Presence is important and can provide security,” argues Johan.

He emphasizes that, in a crisis, it is important to communicate, even if there is not really much to communicate.

“Imagination can run wild in silence. Thus, rather than hold back, err on the side of possibly communicating too often. Show that you are eager to have good contact with customers.”

  • Ensure that everyone who comes into contact with customers is able to respond to questions and concerns.
  • Provide continuous updates via all social channels.
  • If you are experiencing greater pressure than usual, inform customers how you would prefer that they contact you.

Keep calm in decision situations

Having to make various types of decisions about your operations in an escalating crisis can involve great pressure and difficult deliberations. What is important in such a situation? In Johan’s opinion, it is vital to keep a cool head and to try to put things into perspective. 

“Try to maintain a little distance from what is happening. For example, take a few deep breaths or go for a short walk.”

  • Collect information and mark various options.
  • Consider what is most favourable for those concerned (in the slightly longer term too).
  • Do not unnecessarily hasten decision processes.

“Sometimes, we may need to face up to and deal with own and others’ stress and anxiety. Listen to both your head and your heart when taking decisions. Implement decisions and, after a while, evaluate what went well and what could have been better.” 

Prepare statements for various scenarios

Similarly, prepare measures and communications to respond to various scenarios such as new restrictions, staff shortages or delayed deliveries. In this way, if the situation changes, your operations can rapidly reach out to customers with important information. 

Be prepared to handle anxiety and anger

When we are surrounded by turbulence and are confronted by rapidly changing information in news broadcasts and social media, it is not uncommon to experience anxiety, frustration and highly pessimistic thoughts. How can we relate to the anxiety and anger of others? 

“Listen empathically. What is the customer you are communicating with feeling and what does he/she need? If someone is upset, simply acknowledge this feeling. Rather than being defensive, establish what the person would like.”

Feelings are signals that we are, or are not, getting what we need. The underlying needs may be security, clarity, tranquillity and good order. Johan Bergstad recommends showing that you are there for the customer and that you are doing everything you can to help.

Johan Bergstad is a licensed psychologist, lecturer and author of a 2019 book that has attracted much attention, “Brain focus – How to be calm, creative and focused” (Swedish only). The associated Brain focus app (Swedish only) gives access to effective exercises for increasing tranquillity and focus.

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