culture,  purpose

Five tips for communicating in uncertain times

During times of uncertainty like the world is experiencing now, leaders are called upon to step forward with decisiveness, empathy, and transparency.

It there ever was a time we are living in a VUCA world, it is now. VUCA, of course, stands for volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous and was first conceptualized by the U.S. Army War College in 1987. Leaders who consider the VUCA implications of their environments are better able to plan for success in spite of these factors. In the COVID-19/VUCA world, you must be prepared to communicate boldly and decisively to your team and your various constituencies. Your organization, your staff, and maybe even your community is depending on it.

Here are five tips to help you communicate with your team to show strength, resolve, and confidence.

 1. Stay calm.

Your mood sets a tone for the rest of your team. Think of yourself as representing ‘the calm’ for your team. Your team is looking for you to show strength, hope, and a positive approach. Focus on the practical while reminding your team that you will get through this tough time together.

Yes, there will be challenges - both in the short and long-terms. There will be many unknowns, too. The calmer you are, the calmer your constituents will be. And together, you can devise a plan forward.

2. Communicate early and often.

In times of uncertainty your staff, your board, your customers, and sometimes the entire community need to hear from you. The leader's most important job at such times is to keep people informed so they stay calm and focused on the mission. Even if you don't know all the answers, keep communicating. Set a regular communication schedule - and stick to it - so people know they can count on you to provide regular updates. This routine will do a lot to calm the fear and uncertainty your team is experiencing.

Throughout the ordeal you must be honest, transparent, positive, and empathetic. If you make a mistake, own it and publicly commit to correcting it. Embrace the emotional aspect of the crisis and show your audience that you understand what they are going through - what you all are going through together. Place a positive spin on the situation to the extent possible. Empathize how much the organization is learning, how individual members are stepping up during the crisis, how much positive feedback you are getting from your constituents and your donors, and whatever else is appropriate to the situation.

Remember this: When it comes to putting people at ease, giving people hope, and keeping them focused on the mission, you can never over-communicate.

3. Maintain and amplify team rituals.

If you already have One-on-Ones, team meetings, or team lunches maintain those same routines. You can switch those activities to a virtual format, if needed. If you don’t have many rituals, consider introducing a few consistent touch points like a weekly update email and weekly virtual team stand-ups. Rituals create a feeling of grounding that your team will look toward in times of change and uncertainty.

One ritual to continue or initiate is focusing on individual team member contributions to the effort.  In a crisis, many as-yet-undiscovered talents emerge. Celebrate those talents, those individuals, those strengths. People will appreciate the recognition more than you can imagine and will step up even more as a result.

4. Recognize the anxiety your team is feeling.

In times of uncertainty the human brain processes things emotionally. To help people with their anxiety, show empathy, make them feel heard, and help them sort out their thinking. Ask questions like: “How are you feeling?” “What’s on your mind?” and “What can I do to help make things easier?”

5. Focus on what you CAN control.

When uncertainty reigns, confusion and fear tend to dominate our thinking. But there are still things you can control, so focus on those things. Meanwhile, seek to minimize the impact of the uncontrollable on your organization or your team to build a stronger organization after the crisis is averted. As a leader, your job becomes one of cheerleader, helping people overcome their fears (what they cannot control) in order to respond to the task at hand (what they can control).

Remember, any crisis also provides opportunities for your organization and team. You may see opportunities for deeper levels of service, development of new team skills (like remote working), standing out as a leader in you community, and even new donors, investors, or funding streams. Seize them and you will be stronger, better, more resilient in the end.


Are you working with your team to overcome a crisis?  Download our free Infographic, Communication Tips in times of uncertainty

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