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July 19, 2021

8 Tips for Leadership When Communicating During Tough Times


We've made a lot of headway leading through tough times brought on by the pandemic. And hidden in tough times, as many of leaders have come to see, is a defining moment to create real, meaningful connections to maintain – if not drive – productivity and minimize the disruptions that come with change. It’s a time to ensure communication is a top priority to minimize the downsides of change (i.e., turnover, employee disengagement, increased absenteeism) and accelerate the upsides (i.e., improved culture, increased engagement, better productivity).

Now More Than Ever, We Need Leadership

I used to work for a manager who said, "Lead, follow, or get out of the way." This is a litmus test for leadership, which means sharing with employees what we know and what we don’t know. This is a time for courageous conversations and straightforward communications.

Specifically, this is the time to talk about how the organization is positioned for the future and/or how changes are being made to set the business up for future success. It’s also critical to clearly outline specific expectations for employees and what’s needed of them.

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Here are eight tips to use when communicating during tough times:

  1. Lead yourself first

    Taking care of yourself at a basic level helps you avoid taking out stress, frustration or worry on others.
  2. Remember the shadow that’s cast by leaders and the company

    If in a situation where layoffs are happening, keep in mind that they may be tomorrow’s prospects, clients, boss, or future job candidates someday.
  3. Be honest, human, empathetic and show you care

    Delivering tough news is tough and it’s okay to let employees know it. Do what you can to make them feel comforted.
  4. Hold a mirror to yourself

    As you prepare to share updates and/or tough news, consider how you would like to be communicated with if you were in the employees’ shoe.
  5. Outline expectations clearly

    Unclear expectations can lead to a lack of accountability or action – undermining an employees’ ability to deliver results. On the flip side, people rise to the expectations set for them.
  6. If layoffs happen, help the remaining employees “mourn the loss”

    Don’t pretend that nothing happened or that the people left in the company or group aren’t affected.
  7. Don’t wait to communicate until you have all the answers

    By then it will be too late – if you wait, someone is going to speak on your behalf and fill the information vacuum whether the information is right or wrong. Communicate what you know, when you know it, and help employees know what you’re working on figuring out.
  8. Provide context and relevance

    So employees understand the meaning behind what’s being said and understand what it means to them; have a message platform of core messages and actions.

Remember, talking about the state of the business – whether good news or grim – it makes good business sense to avoid significant distractions at a time when a steady hand at the wheel is needed.

Now more than ever, employees want to know where they stand and they need to stay focused. To do this, they need the right direction and information from their leaders and communicators.

How can you use these tips to help relay tough messages to employees?

—David Grossman

Now more than ever, leaders play a pivotal role in connecting, calming, and inspiring their teams. A big part of that is leading with Heart First – click below to learn more about Heart First and order yours today:

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