COVID-19 Crisis Communications: How to Get My Boss to Listen to My Crisis Communication Advice?

By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC

Many communicators and public relations practitioners share the same struggle right now, and it isn’t just the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic itself. The problem they face is fighting an uphill battle against a boss who won’t communicate, despite professional advice to communicate more effectively than ever before.

As a communication expert, you know that employees and customers need updates to address the uncertainties.

And therein lies the problem.

Because facts are not always known in these uncertain times, many executives feel paralyzed. They fear making a proclamation that is incorrect or that they have to walk back. Good. You should have that fear. Others fear giving false hope. Good. Don’t give false hope.

Some are paralyzed because they fear having to deliver bad news, such as layoffs or closing a business.

There is an answer. You should issue communications that clearly says,

These are uncertain times. We know you are looking for answers. We want answers too. But there are so many events that are beyond our control that we simply are not able to give you those answers, because we don’t know what they are.

You see, sometimes the best option is to simply state the obvious. Express that you understand the pain, problem, and predicament. Express that you are looking for answers and when you get them you will share them.

A little communication that states the truth, is better than no communications because of uncertainty.

The Boss Who Won’t Communicate

Those of us who practice crisis communications have long observed the problem of executives who fail to engage in crisis communications. Several frustrated communicators asked about it during a webinar I taught last week with my colleague Bill Coletti at Kith. (You can listen to the full replay here)

Let me go a little deeper on this issue.

This may come as a surprise to you, but a crisis doesn’t make an executive want to prepare or respond in the way you would expect. It’s really hard to explain. It goes against conventional wisdom. You would think that everyone would be jumping on board with best practices and seeking out a top crisis communication expert.

A few will. Most won’t.

Those who won’t communicate suffer from simply having a personality type that causes decision paralysis. Others simply don’t “get it.” They have never been taught that communications has a value.

So What Can You Do?

Start with Step 1 of the 5-Steps to Effective Crisis Communications, which is to create a Vulnerability Assessment.

In the webinar, we also talked about the concept of making a list. On one side you list all the reasons not to communicate and on the other side, you list all of the reasons to communicate.

The struggle is real.

One of two things will happen:

  1. Your boss will listen, come around, and see the benefits.
  2. Your boss refuses to let you, the communicator, do what you are professionally trained to do, which means that it is time to find a better place to work.

The problem of the boss who won’t communicate is nothing new and sadly COVID-19 won’t change it.

Crisis communications and media training expert Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC is based in New Orleans. Organizations on five continents have relied on him to write their crisis communications plans and to train their spokespeople. He is the author of “Don’t Talk to the Media Until…”

More crisis communications articles:

Covid-19 Crisis Communications Webinar Recording

The Biggest Lie in Crisis Communications

4 Steps Every Company Needs to Take in Order to Avoid the Default Spokesperson

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