How to Communicate in Times of Crisis

In January 2009 I travelled for my birthday to a castle in Scotland. There was a lake with black and white swans in front of the castle. They seemed elegant, dignified, calm, beautiful, royal as they were floating on the water.

It was also around the time when the economic crisis started in Romania. 

At about the same time Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book, The Black Swan, had come out and it was fascinating to be in such a place where, on the same lake, both black and white swans where calmly swimming. 

The Black Swan is a metaphor used to describe an unexpected event that has a major impact and is generally rationalized in retrospect. Taleb’s theory referred to unexpected events, with major consequences and impact, and with a dominant role in economy and history. We have a new black swan now. One that is more severe than 11-12 years ago. One that will affect the global economy, possibly on a scale larger than the previous one. However, beyond this impact, and I dare say, more importantly, is the fact that what we are going through right now is life-threatening.

In this situation, an essential role is played by the top managers or those who are part of the so-called crisis units. They ensure a certain continuity and make possible an offset of the negative impact caused by the black swan among us. And one of the crucial aspects of this role is how they communicate with employees. 

Leaders should have contingency plans for tough times. Of course, no one expected such a situation; on the other hand, large firms have procedures for such events. What matters most, however, is how they are applied. I recommend for those who communicate in this period:

  • To do their homework well before communicating, and to make an analysis of the audience: who they are, what fears they might have, what expectations, hopes; what are the company’s strengths and weaknesses; what is the current situation; what are the questions the audience would like to get answers to.
  • To make a plan in order to respond to potential fears, expectations (for example: ‘probably a fear could be that after this period the firm will not be able to have jobs for all. We assure you that we are doing everything in our power so that everyone can keep their jobs’)
  • To speak clearly, to the point, with self-confidence. When we communicate with confidence, we give confidence. When we communicate with hesitation, with fear, we create hesitation, mistrust, panic.
  • Let’s not forget a principle in the life of a manager: every day when they go to work, their mood is immediately picked up by those around them. Not at the same level but intensified many times. In an article published a few years ago, someone said that it is as if the manager had a megaphone on their shoulder and it amplified the state of the wearer. Now, in a situation of crisis, the megaphone amplifies tenfold. So, we should be careful about what we want to convey.
  • To decide on the method of communication: email, digital platform, because face to face communication is not possible now. If it is done on a platform, it is very important to be seen by people. This creates a connection, it gives trust. Be careful though: it can also create distrust, panic, if the points mentioned above are not prepared.
  • To be ready to be open, to give examples: of what happens; how the company will be affected, the plans they are working on how they will handle the work from home, the payment of salaries. 
  • To create a virtual space where people can ask and answer daily questions. 
  • To understand what they CANNOT do /say in situations of crisis; to carefully communicate, only from official sources. 
  • To communicate often, even if they do not have anything new. Showing people that you are active, that you are busy making plans, means giving them confidence, hope, showing them that they matter to you. 
  • To show empathy towards them: denying reality will not help. It is better to admit that the situation is difficult, that you understand what they are going through, than to minimize the crisis, panic, fear.
  • To give them something to do: it is important for people to have an activity, to know that the company invests in them (less, this is true, but it still does). At the same time, I would recommend the amount of responsibilities to be distributed carefully. We all have a high level of stress, those with kids might find it harder to get organized. We should respect this aspect. 
  • To behave in those moments of communication with people the same way as the swans on the Scottish lake: as if the entire castle was theirs and they royally pass by, to give a sense of calmness, trust. They should be the only ones who know how much work is under water, where no one can see.


About the Author: Georgeta Dendrino, VP Mentoring, PWN Global 

 Georgeta DendrinoIn addition to her volunteer Board role as VP Mentoring with PWN Global, Georgeta is also Board member of the Association for Values in Education, and CEO of Interact Business Communication.

Experienced owner with a demonstrated history of working in the professional training and coaching industry. Business coach, Cartier Women's initiative Awards; skilled in Executive Development, Performance Improvement, Career Development, HR Consulting and Strategy Development. Strong entrepreneurship professional graduated from Insead. Passionate about writing, personal and professional development, mentoring, executive coaching, education and gender balanced leadership.

PWN Global offers one-on-one mentoring, team mentoring, reverse mentoring, both face to face and remotely. We have a pool of highly skilled and experienced mentors in 30 City Networks that can offer support for professional women. In times we crisis, we all need support, we need perspective. Our mentors are able to provide guidance for professionals, managers or individual contributors to navigate during these turbulent times.


Author: Georgeta Dendrino, VP Mentoring, PWN Global
Date: April 2020



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