What makes good communication not only in crisis?

For several weeks, most managers have been facing a challenge: how to effectively manage during and after a pandemic, when the economic situation has changed irreversibly? What can I do when my co-workers and company’s clients focus mostly on protecting themselves and their families from infection? How to make complex decisions and communicate in such a situation?


Communication during the crisis – change of focus

Because the context of a crisis situation is completely different than the standard conditions in which the organization operates, therefore, usual communication during a crisis may not be very effective. As indicated by A. Boin, S. Kuipers, W. Overdijk, there is a clear difference between strategies and the skills of “routine” communication and crisis communication (Goidel and Miller, 2009). For example, what works to sell a policy or a candidate does not necessarily work in a crisis. The crisis situation is characterized by a much faster and unpredictable pace of change, and often contradictory information. In a crisis situation, the manager needs to communicate much more often and more transparently with her/his team to explain the crisis, its consequences, determine actions that lead to minimizing the effects of the crisis and specifically “why, who and when” should apply the actions in question.


Assertive attitude prevents the “temptation” to enter the dramatic triangle

In a crisis situation, the manager may have contradictory information or have little of it. This situation also causes stress and emotional burden, as a result, the manager can more easily enter the undesirable roles of the “dramatic triangle”, such as “prosecutor, victim, savior.” The “dramatic triangle” is a universal cultural stereotype that can occur in anyone. Even a leader with high self-awareness may unknowingly find himself in his/her field and succumb to her/his strength, write J. Santorski and M. Matczak (3). In addition, it is also a mechanism that works like a machine for mutual blame and disclaim responsibility.


Anticipating the consequences of decisions

Often, even in crisis situations, the manager postpones making complicated decisions, gaining additional “time” for himself/herself to react. In such situations, the manager thinks that she/he can solve the problem later, but in a crisis it is important to make decisions quickly and often under the time pressure. The problem however, is not a matter of making a decision, but of consequences that the manager, for example, does not want or is afraid to bear. When a manager makes a choice, regardless of the prevailing conditions, she/he first needs to predict the consequences of his/her actions. Therefore, to precisely prevent any undesirable consequences it is good to ask yourself Cartesian questions such as: what will happen if I do it? What won’t happen if I do it? What happens if I don’t do it? What won’t happen if I don’t do it? The above questions help to describe the consequences of a decision made or not taken.

Economically and emotionally difficult time for the company and employees directly affects the way the manager manages and here the way communication he/she uses is of a great importance. It is time for a manager or entrepreneur to change from standard management methods to management in crisis, which will have an impact on better team work, generating new solutions for the company’s client and minimizing the negative effects resulting from the crisis.


In this situation, it is also worth remembering that the results of each company, and thus its revenues and profits, as Peter F. Drucker writes, are outside the organization, that is, customers who buy products or services of the company exchange efforts and cost enterprises in their income. Therefore, in this difficult business situation as it is now, the manager even more manages the thinking and operation of the entire team so as to bring the best solutions to the clients. Thus, the question that the manager now answers is not “what are our problems in a given situation?” But what are my client’s problems? How can my products and services solve my clients’ problems in a crisis? What else can I do that I haven’t done so far for my client?


The manager can avoid “communication traps” and undesirable emotions at work, resulting from the roles of the dramatic triangle, when he/she adopts an assertive attitude. Assertive attitude assumes that both, the manager and colleague, have the right to their point of view or thinking. The manager does not have to agree with the colleague’s arguments, however, he/she respects her/his right to a different opinion. In the way of communication in difficult situations, in an assertive attitude, it is worth switching from the narrative as „You”, e.g. You are lying to me, it’s not true, into the language of „I”, communication of respect and intuition towards colleagues, and e.g. I think the facts are different.


Taking responsibility for solving the problem opens the way to find new opportunities

A manager is always a role model for his/her team. To help get through difficult circumstances, it’s worth building a sense of security and trust in your team thanks to assertive attitude and communication. When a leader remains consistent in his assertive attitude, way of thinking and acting, she/he creates effective habits and standards for the entire team. One of the key elements to create such standards of effectiveness in achieving manager’s goals, also in crisis, is to take responsibility for both success and solving problems in a difficult time. Another factor determining the effectiveness is continuous implementation of the company’s main goal and constant focus on solving the problems of each client of the company.


“It is the effectiveness of managers that our personal well-being depends on, and in the last instance – our ability to survive” (4) Peter F. Drucker wrote over thirty years ago, however this sentence is even more actual in the current business situation. Therefore, it is worth working on the management methods and effective communication in and after the crisis.


Anna Modrzewska

Cross - culture psychologist, business trainer and coach.

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