The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything. It’s disrupted the normal flow of business, changed how we work, and impacted the lives of your employees in a variety of ways. As a business leader, it’s not your job to fix everything. It is, however, your responsibility to be an effective communicator.
Mastering Effective Communication in Uncertain Times
Being a leader is never easy. There’s always something going on - some fire that has to be put out. But certain times and situations are more challenging than others. And a global pandemic that’s shut everything down and dried up entire industries certainly qualifies as one of these moments.
We’ve been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic for the better part of a year and there are no signs that it will suddenly retreat. Plus, there are no guarantees that this will be the last pandemic or global crisis we’ll deal with. So it’s imperative that leaders momentarily hit the pause button and regroup.
If you want to lead your way through crisis, you have to master communication. More specifically, you have to learn how to communicate effectively. And that looks like prioritizing each of the following:
HR professionals and other business leaders must first educate themselves on the facts by gathering information from reliable sources. In the case of COVID-19, this means getting your information from places like the WHO or CDC -- not random blogs or message boards.
Armed with this information, you can speak with confidence. This doesn’t mean everything will be 100 percent accurate, but you can know that you’re working with the best information that’s available right now. If your response is ever called into question, you can point to that you were following guidelines from the WHO or CDC.
Communication should be clear and direct. Never say something that you don’t mean, just to placate your employees. If you’re uncertain about something, leave it out of the communication and explain that you’re working to gather more facts to make a decision. Clarity in your communication is very important. Cut the fluff and strip down your message to what matters most.
While clarity is crucial, you can’t forget about sensitivity. Remember that every employee is facing unique circumstances in the middle of a pandemic or disaster. Some employees are totally fine and relatively carefree. Other employees have lost loved ones and/or suffer from extreme anxiety. You have to be sensitive to all of this.
One way to be sensitive without going overboard is to survey your employees to see where they are psychologically, physically, and financially. This will help you understand the appropriate response moving forward. (It also shows employees that you’re listening to their needs.)
Effective communication is quick and precise. It cuts through the noise and reaches employees within minutes (not hours or days). So while email or snail mail are fine for certain things, these should not be your primary methods of communication in a disaster. You need something much faster, like text messaging or SMS.
SMS is a valuable communication mode during a pandemic primarily because of its speed and receptivity. A text message can be sent and received in seconds and the recipient almost always has their phone on them. And with read rates over 98 percent (compared to just 20-30 percent for email), you can be certain that your messages are being relayed.
Empathy is a valuable leadership trait and now is one of those moments where you must show people that you care and relate.
Remember that the way you feel isn’t indicative of how everyone feels. You might be a relatively carefree person. You also might not be in a high-risk category (or live with anyone who is). And perhaps your job and salary are safe. But this may not be the case with your employees. They may suffer from anxiety. They could be in a high-risk category. Or their job could be next on the chopping block.
Practice empathy and learn to relate to people where they are. They’ll benefit, you’ll gow, and the company will be stronger as a whole.
Preparing for the Future
The hope is that the novel coronavirus will be neutralized at some point in 2021, but this pandemic has taken too many twists and turns to know with any certainty. Regardless, your ability to communicate effectively will strengthen your cause and increase your ability to lead through times of uncertainty, now and in the future.