FAQ for Effective & Empathetic Communications in a Crisis

"When we are in a crisis, how we communicate matters, not only what we say, but how we say it"

I've shared the FAQ for Effective & Empathetic Communications in a Crisis in the latest edition of Accountancy Plus, the official journal of CPA Ireland.

But before rushing out an email campaign or starting a webinar – stand still. In a crisis there tends to be an energy that hits us pushing us to start taking action. “Don’t do something, stand there” is great advise I heard from an experienced communications expert, she was well used to dealing with drama and demanding enquiries from media. The key lesson is don’t rush out. You can do it quick or you can do it right so take time to consider best options.

A crisis can bring the best or worst out in leaders so keep calm and think carefully. If you are in a larger organisation it can be useful to select a small trusted sub group to make decisions and take responsibility for your plan. Larger groups in a crisis can become unwieldy and slow.

What do I do first?

The first question is who do I need to communicate with. In firms this starts with your team, partners, staff, contractors etc

It’s critical the firms team understand the firms position so you are all communicating the same message or signing from the same hymn sheet.

Why do I need to communicate now?

Carefully consider if you need to communicate right now particularly when it comes to your clients.

Some firms are blasting out very frequent communications by email. Don’t forget you are never not communicating so blasting out daily updates or complete silence sends a message in itself.

It’s important now to craft careful communications that are helpful and thoughtful with your audience in mind. Now is not the time to sell.

Segment and Listen

Firstly before we build out a communication plan we need to listen to what our audience are saying and consider how they are feeling right now.

To do that we need to identify our audiences. These usually fall into the following categories

The firms team of resources, partners, management in the firm, staff etc.

Then we need to consider clients and prospects.

It’s important to ensure your teams have been clearly communicated with before issuing communications to clients as staff are mostly likely to get calls from their clients so they need to be clear on your position.

How does the audience feel now?

When it comes to actually communication with any audience it’s important to consider their position and listen to concerns.

This can be challenging to do when it comes to clients but it’s really a matter of picking up the phone and checking in to see how they are personally. This isn’t a sales call by any means, this is purely a check in to see how they and their family are doing. While days might drag, a lot can also happen in a short period of time so don’t presume you know what’s happening in your clients sector. Keep yourself informed.

It’s rare for any firm to have a portfolio of clients that are exactly the same so consider the various perspectives your clients are coming from. What is their industry, what’s their most pressing issues, what are they most worried about etc.

How to Segment?

Segmenting your client base in some way leads to a greater appreciation of their perspective so you in turn have a clearer view. Marketers call this building a persona and without making the issue complicated, it’s important to step into the shoes of your client so you can view the landscape of issues they are facing before considering how you communicate anything with them.

This current crisis is likely to go on for some time, not really what anyone wants to hear. Given the end of it isn’t clear, it’s wise to consider on an ongoing basis the environment of your audience, as it’s very likely the mood music will change as time goes on so revisit that often to ensure your messaging is on point. Once we become used to the shock of the situation we tend to move into survival mode and then start adapting to the new normal.

How to acknowledge worry?

There is lots that can worry us now from health of loved ones, managing small kids at home while trying to work, business viability, a changing future. Displaying empathy and acknowledging that your teams and clients are worried can set minds a little easier and should build a more open environment for meaningful conversation.

How to reach out?

I don’t believe there is one size to fit all here. Very little will replace a conversation one to one but this isn’t always practical. However it is important to make that call to critically important audiences, staff especially and top clients.

We have all become much more a customised to using virtual meetings now so it can be as simple as a facetime call

Most firms are sending emails, using webinars, conference calls etc. If you tend to use email, be very conscious that is can be difficult to pick up a tone in written communication so write and review carefully.

The World Health organisation says that face to face interaction helps us deal with emotions in times of disease and crisis so it’s not surprising we have become used to seeing daily updates on our televisions or phones from the department of health.

Is trust more important now?

To feel confident to act on your recommendations and direction, your team has to trust you. The more trust we trust the messenger the more confidence we have in them. To build trust, we must manage expectations, communicate openly, and at the right frequency.

Keep listening and learning

If you are fortunate enough to be part of a wider global network with larger firms in it, it can be very useful to see and learn from what others are doing, especially those in countries ahead of us in this pandemic. If you are not in a group like that, you can still learn from what other firms are doing via social media, every day is a school day particularly now. Don’t just stick with accounting firms here, we will all learn from other industries, especially agile sectors quick to adapt like tech.

Adapting to the future?

Our ability to rapidly adapt to using so much virtual communication tools has been a great benefit of this crisis. This change is likely to stay with us even when working life returns to the new normal so it’s an important part of your communication tool kit.

Some firms are having great attendance on short webinars now, with attendees appreciating the ease of attending for thirty minutes without leaving their desks and the ability to ask their questions virtually. It is very likely that this trend will continue as it’s easy to measure, follow up on and engage. Again, communicating virtually requires a different skill that presenting in person, we need to communicate clearly, directly, be engaging and adapt for our audience.

Remember this too will pass and we as professionals will be remembered for our professionalism and calmness, hopefully.

Please download below and if any queries please contact me.

Effective & Empathetic Communications Download