Practicing Crisis Listening
Crisis communications is often viewed as a “one-way street.” The image that tends to dominate the common thinking surrounding crisis communication is the individual in front of a group of people talking “at them.” I hesitate to even call this communications, but it seems to be the imagine people have. I think good Crisis Communications is more of a two-way street where the speaker spends as much time listening, as they do talking.
Listening is one of the most important elements to effective communication, but it’s also one of the hardest ones to develop. If you find yourself as the person tapped to handle crisis communications or you have trained for it, you probably like to talk. This is ok, but I would encourage you to slow down and think about the fact that you have two ears and only one mouth. You should be listening twice as much as you’re talking. Being self-aware about your listening skills is the first step to making them better.
A few years ago, I watched as a young man attempted to speak to a group of people following abuse allegations at a daycare facility. He covered all the pertinent information and did a thorough job of protecting the organization, but when his “speech” ended reporters in attendance, as well as the families had questions that needed answered. He could have spent some time hearing them, but he quickly rushed out of the room. The general consensus was that the daycare was only concerned about itself and not about the children. Had he spent some time listening, some of this thinking could have been avoided.
Your role as the crisis communicator is not just to convey information, but to do it in a way that allows those hearing to know you care and are concerned about the outcome. This requires you to sometimes shut your lips and open your ears.