It’s bad enough when the $#!t hits the fan. Say or do the wrong thing in the midst of that crisis and you’ll almost always make it worse.
So there are some things leaders should never say — write, post, record or relay — when things go wrong.
And they will go wrong. More than 95% of companies have experienced some kind of disruption in the past two years, according to research from PwC. And, as a result, nearly as many have created a crisis management, resilience or reaction plan.
Never say v. say in a crisis
Crisis at work can run the gamut — from one team member’s personal loss that affects the group to a major organizational issue that threatens operations, employees and customers.
Regardless of how, when and where the $#!t hits the fan, managers will have to communicate the right information at the right time and place.
“In a crisis, every second counts,” says Robert Dilenschneider, author of The Ultimate Guide to Power & Influence: Everything You Need to Know. “Quick decision-making, clear communication, and a unified message can make the difference between a company that survives and thrives.”
Here’s a quick guide on what not to say — and what to say or do — when the $#!t hits the fan at work.
1. Tell it all, fast
Never say: Something has happened. I’ll let you know more when I have more information.
Say: Our biggest client fired us. This will affect assignments, workloads and, potentially, our jobs. While that’s a last resort, it’s possible. The leadership will have a plan in place and share it by the end of this week.
Reason: “The best strategy is to tell it all and tell it fast,” says Dilenschneider. People would rather know bad news — and some details on how it might be handled — than know nothing at all.
Outcome: When you’re as straight and fast as possible with anyone affected by the crisis, you’ll build credibility immediately.
2. Speak to the audience
Never say: The company will need to assess the cause, effects and outcomes we expect.
Say: The product recall will affect all of us to some capacity. Immediately, our company will face scrutiny in the media and on social media. We know this can be embarrassing and frustrating for you. You can talk confidentially with me or HR if you want to share personal concerns.
Reason: You want to “talk from the viewpoint of your audience and to their self-interest,” says Dilenschneider. Almost everyone who’s affected by the $#!t hitting fan wants to know how it truly affects them.
Outcome: Employees will receive negative information and situations with better attitudes when you acknowledge how it can affect them. Even better, give them tools to respond to what’s happened.
3. Paint a clear picture
Never say: We’re investigating the incident.
Say: The HR manager, VP and I are talking with everyone who witnessed the crash in the warehouse to determine what went wrong.
Reason: “Avoid jargon and euphemisms. An explosion is not an incident,” says Dilenschneider. You don’t want to underplay or over-generalize what’s happened. People will visualize something worse, fill in gaps with fallacies or underestimate the impact if they don’t get a clear picture of what’s going on.
Outcome: Anyone affected by the issue will understand better how to react and move forward when they “see” the reality.
4. Own mistakes
Never say: We think the production and shipping department caused the problem.
Say: We are sending customers replacement products for free. We’ll review our fulfillment process once we’ve satisfied every customer to find the best ways to improve it.
Reason: You don’t want to point fingers when things go wrong. You want to find and execute solutions.
Outcome: Ideally, everyone involved can take some credit for solving problems, overcoming issues and improving your situation. And no one takes blame.
5. Tell the truth
Never say: Everything will be OK.
Say: Because of the recall, we anticipate we’ll lose 25% of revenue this year. That will likely lead to cutbacks in payroll and production.
Reason: “Tell the truth, even if it hurts,” says Dilenschneider. “Don’t be defensive.” If you become defensive — it’s often a natural reaction — when people ask more questions, you’ll create more tension and barriers at a time when alignment is key to moving forward.
Outcome: Employees can plan for their personal futures — and what’s best for them — when they understand the business impact of the issue.
6. Skip clichés
Never say: Our thoughts and prayers are with them.
Say: I am sad. We, as a company, want to help our colleagues. This is what we plan to do to help them through this difficult situation.
Reason: When bad things happen at work to employees or clients, clichés sound insincere and are useless. People need to hear their leaders and organization have emotions and the senses to do things to help when their people need it.
Outcome: You’ll create goodwill and a stronger sense of community when you show emotion and take action, rather than just deliver lip service.
7. Say all you can
Never say: I can’t tell you anything.
Say: What I can tell you is, this is an HR matter, and for the privacy of employees involved, and for legal reasons I can’t share much. But I do want you to know that this is how the investigation will affect our department …
Reason: “Never say ‘no comment,'” says Dilenschneider. “If the information is private — say, about personnel — explain the reason. Then find something else to say.” If you don’t share something, everyone involved will fill in holes with speculation, gossip and possibly all-out lies.
Outcome: With some information, everyone involved should be satisfied enough to leave speculation out of the equation.