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September 20, 2021

4 Steps to Communicate in a Crisis Situation


Every company deals with difficult problems and issues each day. Starbucks’ issue of racial profiling in one of their stores; United Airlines forcibly removing a passenger from a flight; countless companies having issues with data breaches; leadership teams finding themselves in the hot seat for not following through on diversity and inclusion pledges, to name a few.

Over the past year and a half, the COVID-19 pandemic proved that no industry or organization is free from the risk of a crisis. As companies worked their way through workplace and workforce implications of the pandemic, we all learned more about the critical importance of communicating during crisis. So, how can corporate leaders apply these lessons when something goes wrong?

4 Steps to Effectively Communicate in a Crisis

One important caveat up front sound communications cannot make up for poor decision-making on the part of leadership. However, when leaders do become aware of issues, they should follow these actions:

  1. Gather the Facts

    Understand the situation, its components, results and future implications as much as possible. Figure out what you know; what you don’t know; what you need to find out; and what are myths and rumors that abound.
  2. Tell the Truth

    There is no substitute for this. While you should work with your communications and legal teams on what information you will be sharing, whatever you share needs to be the unadulterated truth. Be honest about what you know and what you are working to figure out.
  3. Plan Your Communications and Be Proactive

    With the exception of regulatory requirements, all communication should be executed from the “inside out.” Employees should be communicated to first and foremost, followed by outside audiences. Communicate proactively with your stakeholders to avoid an information vacuum that can fill with misinformation.
  4. Build Communication Skill

    No matter how successful the leader, there is one common truth communication is a learned skill. When crisis situations arise, those leaders who have taken the time to build that skill beforehand are far more successful than those learning “on the fly.” To drive effective communications, leaders must:
    • Have a platform that outlines their core messages and actions
    • Be visible, open, honest, trustworthy and candid
    • Be consistent
    • Communicate frequently and proactively
    • Understand that everything they say and do communicates
    • Answer questions employees have
    • Be engaged in developing and planning their communications
    • Engage their communications team as a business partner
    • Know their audience and where they are coming from
    • Ask employees for their input and use it

The Value of Being a leadercommunicator

These are the qualities of what I call a “leadercommunicator,” an individual who realizes that most problems in business today lie in the absence of real communication. They apply in a crisis and every day. When done well, these courageous leaders are able to mitigate crisis, create shared meaning and move people to action.

Which one step when implemented effectively will be most useful to help you become a leadercommunicator?

—David Grossman

Help your employees process difficult situations with the help of this guide, 10 Steps to Help Your Employees Process Difficult Situations.

Click to download the Difficult Situations Quick Guide

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