In this interview with my wonderful friend, Dorie Clark, world authority on helping people get their message out in a crowded marketplace, we talk about how leaders should communicate in times of crisis.
Author of Entrepreneurial You, Reinventing You, and Stand Out, Dorie is recognized as a “branding expert” by the Associated Press. She’s also one of the Marshall Goldsmith 100 Coaches, Adjunct Professor of Business Administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, a former presidential campaign spokeswoman and a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review and Forbes.
Marshall: Dorie, you have a fascinating background. You’ve worked in the political scene. You’ve helped people deal with crisis and you teach this at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Tell us what is it like for leaders to communicate in times of crisis.
Dorie: Thanks Marshall.
When leaders are faced with a crisis, it’s a tense situation. The normal communication of calmer times doesn’t work well. That’s because leaders have things coming at them and they can’t really plan things out. The key is to understand a few things.
- We often tend to over promise, pretend we know the answers in crisis. This doesn’t work. Have you heard the saying “the cover up is worse than the crime”? It’s true. And, this extends even to those who make honest mistakes by pushing just a little too far. In crisis, you want to say as much as you know, but no more than that, because you will get hammered if you do not state the facts.
- In crisis communication there are only 3 avenues you can take, really only three things you can say: The first is “I didn’t do it.” If you didn’t do it, just say that. That works. The second is, “I did it, but it was justified. Then you explain why you tried to change the narrative to make sense of it. The third is, “yes, we did, and we’re sorry.” If you have to do this, you want to say it as quickly as possible. If you start out denying, which is a human impulse, and it takes days, weeks, or months to get to the acknowledgement of the truth, unfortunately, your reputation is likely to become irreparably tarnished in the interim.
Marshall: Dorie, I love what you’re doing. It’s very related to our Stakeholder Centered Coaching process. We give leaders feedback, they get the good news, they find out what they need to change and when they have made mistakes. Then, they apologize and get to work. The sooner they do this, the better when it comes to change. So, I love what you’re doing. I think it helps organizations, and I think it helps individuals. It’s just a good way to look at living.