When the other shoe drops in the workplace, many people take cover or become scarce. Many try to avoid an uncomfortable talk with employees.
So when something takes a turn for the worse at work, people share less, whisper more and fill gaps with negative talk.
That’s not the way to do it.
“It’s easy to be a communication superstar during good times,” says Art Petty, author of Leadership Caffeine. “The real question is, what happens to your effectiveness when the train rolls off the tracks and the you-know-what hits the fan?”
Leaders across organizations need to step up and make sure the quality of communication is better than ever when things go wrong. Here’s what to do, according to Petty.
Spot the warning signs and act
There are almost always warning signs there will be communication issues ahead.
For instance, you’ll witness:
- escalating opinions on decisions
- increasing frustrations, and
Spot any one or a combination of these signs and leaders need to communicate more and get people communicating more clearly.
For instance, if you see or hear about team members speaking with frustration or negatively about each other, try to re-frame the situation when you talk with employees:
“Let’s take a moment and think about how this situation can help us strengthen as a team. What can we do now to improve our teamwork and get back on track?”
Hit reality head-on, move to safety
Bad situations sometimes come out like a crime scene: Every witness sees it from a different angle and there’s no clear picture of what’s really going on.
That’s why leaders need to help everyone get a common view of reality to keep communication clear throughout the situation. Two keys:
1. Acknowledge everyone has a unique and important viewpoint, and
2. Explain the next step is to get everyone on the same page by asking:
- We all agree this stinks. Can you tell me about the other emotions you feel right now?
- What do we know about this?
- What do we need to know about it?
- How many options can we consider?
- What are the risks?
- How will we make a decision?
Help those who ‘fight’ or ‘flight’
Stressful situations bring out the best and worst in people – some respond with the “fight” reflex and others with the “flight” reflex. Good communication can help both get through the situation.
Ask the “fighters”:
- Why are you upset?
- What other points of view have you considered?
Ask the “flighters”:
- Why are you avoiding this?
- What point of view would you like to share?
Know when to stop
Sometimes communication needs to stop in tough situations. If tensions continue, voices rise or nothing gets resolved, step back.
Ask everyone involved to cool off and think about what’s most important in the situation (which is likely getting it resolved) before you talk with employees again.
Avoid virtual communication
Petty warns email and texting should not be in the communication plan during a bad situation. It’s important to talk with employees.
Face-to-face and audio communication give the benefit of context shown in body language, facial expressions, and tone. Stick with that.