Crisis communication and fear management

What is crisis communication? Crisis communication is understood as the way companies share information in critical moments. Crisis communication is part of crisis management and its objective is to minimize the impact on a company of the negative consequences of a crisis.

Crisis communication and fear management
How to manage fear and crisis communication. Photo by krakenimages / Unsplash

When the organization experiences crises, the contribution of an internal communication strategy is decisive. In changing and adverse contexts, the members of the organization feel threatened and hesitate in their actions. Fear grows in the organization and it is necessary to intervene quickly and precisely to avoid undesirable consequences. Both fear and uncertainty are potentiated to threaten job stability and organizational homeostasis.

However, communication can have extraordinary power in these situations. Effectively managed, it can not only prevent stumbles or falls but can generate exits and even grow the organization. But to act in this way, communication needs energy. Where can it be obtained if the entire organization and its resources are in crisis? Precisely from the same adversity. From the same prevailing fear. As the thermodynamic law assures, energy is not lost but can be transformed. One of the priority functions of internal crisis communication is to capture, neutralize and channel fear towards favorable attitudes and behaviors.

The plan must be very precise. It is necessary to know where to aim and what is expected to be achieved. The main target must be emotions. Without losing sight of that center, it will be necessary to approach fear strategically to know, understand and reverse it. The process is not easy, but a series of methodological steps can favor success. The objectives are staggered and successive: first acceptance, then trust, and finally, opportunity.

Effective internal communication captures, neutralizes and channels fear into favorable behaviors.
A crisis communication plan is a set of steps and procedures that describes how a company should communicate with its employees, stakeholders, and the public during an emergency. Image by mhouge from Pixabay

Internal communication captures, neutralizes and channels fear into favorable behaviors

The first strategic action is to listen. Haste is usually the main enemy of this stage, as it is usually skipped or forgotten. Listening is the first act of effective communication. Pinpointing employees' perceptions enables the first objective of the strategy (acceptance) to be met, to move on to the next stage of the plan: empathy. This second step involves understanding the emotional-affective situation of the organization's members. In this instance, it does not matter if the employees are right, but that they have "emotion".

Putting oneself in their emotional place allows reaching the second objective of the strategy (trust), which is the key to access the third and last stage: broadcasting. Historically, the most inspiring crisis communications have been those that previously interpreted the feelings of the recipients. A crisis message built on listening (gaining acceptance) and empathy (gaining trust) can generate a very high coefficient of effectiveness (opportunity for a change).

Effective communication can prevent stumbling blocks and even grow the organization.
Communication is an asset that provides companies with the resilience and strength needed to face adversity, enhance the brand and increase the trust of their target audience and the general public. Image by Jerry Kimbrell from Pixabay

Good communication can avoid stumbling blocks and even grow the organization

The energy contained in fear, if well channeled, can be the force that the entire organization needs to unite and act. It is well known that in extreme situations, a human being can have two basic reactions: attack or flight. If fear is not managed in a crisis, employees will either seek conflict, attack the organization, or they will become paralyzed and withdraw from any proposal. But effective crisis communication can bring people together and move forward, even with a proposal that does not communicate a "quick fix" solution. Winston Churchill's historic message reveals: "I can only promise you blood, sweat, and tears". History shows that truthful, honest communication, based on reality and the interpretation of what people feel, is always positive.

An organization's fear-embodied energy can become the force it needs to unite and take action.
Communication channels must be transparent, avoiding the temptation to play on suspicion or sensationalism, discarding the extremes of fatalism and optimism, to focus on objectivity and common sense. Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

The energy embodied in fear can become the force an organization needs to unite and take action

No organization has emerged from a crisis without its people. We all know that in these situations the actions of employees are decisive. Managers and communicators must "think strategically" so that employees can "act in alignment", but always remember that between Thinking and Doing, there is Feeling. This is where internal crisis communication makes a differential contribution. Reflective thinking is the first step, but for there to be aligned action by all employees, it is decisive to know and understand their emotions.

The "myth of the hero" sums it up clearly. It is not that Ulysses, Hector, or Herakles do not feel fear, but that they can go through it, that they can use it to overcome obstacles. A comprehensive internal communication strategy puts the employees' fear on the table: it listens to it, understands it, accepts it, and, with that reality, tailors its messages. In any crisis, it is essential to think quickly and accurately, but without forgetting that emotions are the preliminary step to any human behavior, to any collective achievement.