You may have heard and read plenty of advice about what to say in certain situations–interviews, sales presentations, civic club speeches and more. Yet no course or coaching or books could have prepared us for the conversations we are having this year during Covid19. Because of your compassionate nature, you want to talk with friends who have lost their jobs, business owners who no longer have a business or families who have contracted the virus–and even suffered loss of life.
So what do you say when you don’t know what to say? Consider these four tips:
FIRST: Note that in many cases your presence means more than your words. When you meet with a distressed individual, the very fact you showed up says plenty–because many other acquaintances stay away, afraid they might say something wrong.
Fact is, the individual you want to comfort is not likely to remember what you said, yet they will remember the uplifting power of your presence. No need, then, for you to rehearse your words. Showing up translates to “I care.”
SECOND: Become a listener more than a talker
Your burdened friends, co-workers, relatives and clients are experiencing a strong need to express their feelings. It’s best, then, to replace statements with questions that help ventilate deep feelings. You might ask:
“Started a job search yet?”
“What warm memories of your father are you thinking about today?”
“How much longer will your son be in quarantine?”
THIRD: Offer specific, practical help
A natural trend when disaster strikes: vague offers: “Call me if you need anything.” “You know you can count on me.” “I’m with you all the way.”
Well-intended as those expressions are, they lack the specificity that relationships expert Kare Anderson has advocated in her speeches and books.
Examples of specific offers:
“While your car is in the shop because of the accident, call me when you need transportation.”
“I know how weary caregivers get. On Wednesday I can stay with your daughter while you go out for lunch and shopping.”
“I’ll be glad to review your resume, to see if there are ways to strengthen your job search.”
FOURTH: Check back within ten days
Frequently people with highly visible needs welcome dozens of neighbors and friends the first two or three days after the crisis becomes known. Then usually those well-wishers return to their normal activities.
You will excel as a supporter when you check back on the distressed people within a week or so. By then, the reality of their struggle will have become more overwhelming, more intense. Your returning to them will foster gratitude and inspiration.
I encourage you to keep these steps in mind, especially during what I call our “Twilight Zone” existence–known infamously as Covid19.
Now you know what to say–in those circumstances when previously you had no idea what to say.
Dr. Merrianne Dyer spent thirty-six years in the Gainesville, Georgia school system as a teacher, principal and superintendent. Now she travels nationwide as an in-demand educational consultant.
Having taught in Mississippi when court-ordered integration occurred, she learned by observing a school administrator what leaders should do in crisis situations.
Click on the interview above to hear her talk about crises, school dropouts, mental health and more.
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After more than twenty years as an award winning reporter and anchor–including CNN Headline News and WSB-TV Atlanta–Lori Geary formed her own media training company. Lori Geary Media helps clients with Video Production, Media Training, Media Consulting, and Crisis Communications.
As you’ll see in the video at the top of this post, I hosted Lori on my weekly “Biz Communication Show.” You’ll want to hear her advice in this interview, giving guidelines and strategies for companies who get thrust into the public eye in an unfavorable way–and must face the media to explore the problem and announce satisfactory solutions.
Watch the video now, to hear Lori’s recommendations about crisis communication, including:
–saying “no comment”
–off the record
–role of the CEO during a public crisis
–getting your team ready to answer challenging questions
–why companies of all sizes need a crisis communication plan
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Without warning, your company can become the center of local, state, national, and in some rare cases international news. Your corporation’s unwanted time in the spotlight could result from:
–CEO firing or resignation
–sexual harassment charges
–huge stock loss
–sale or merger
–work site fatality
Frequently these incidents will bring the media to your front door. Even before you can invite newspaper, radio, and TV reporters to a press conference, the “nose-for-news” professionals start bombarding you with questions.
Instantly, you think of similar situations, where you have watched business leaders respond. Quite often, you have heard them answer questions–especially the toughest ones–with “no comment.” So that’s the best way for you to reply. Right?
Wrong, totally wrong. Why? Because “no comment” sounds evasive, deceptive, and suspicious. Seems you must be hiding something. Your credibility begins to evaporate.
So if you get into this public crisis situation, avoid “no comment.” Instead, use this approach:
“I understand that you need the answer to your question now, and I would be glad to give it if I could. However, we are exploring the situation, to gather all the facts and confirm their validity before we make a public statement on this issue. As soon as we have the information you want, we will contact you quickly.
Then there’s one more step to make this comment satisfactory. Do what you promised. Never assume the media reps will forget your pledge. Contact everyone who questioned you, and distribute your documented findings.
As famed broadcaster Paul Harvey might say, that’s “the rest of the story.”
Conclusion: Dodging reporters damages your image. Delaying reporters courteously until you are able to furnish valid facts and explanations not only helps you maintain your reputation, you are likely to elevate your company’s prestige.