Communicating your way through a crisis

Amy Gallo, author of The HBR Guide to Dealing with Conflict, details how tapping into your emotional intelligence can help guide your team through times of trouble and uncertainty.
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This is part of a larger feature on how to lead in a time of crisis. Read the other features here.

‘Right now leaders need to make decisions – often about trade-offs and issues they’ve never faced before – and they need to make them fast. So, how can you be both a decisive and inclusive leader during this crisis? And how can you lead people who are scared, anxious, and overwhelmed – especially when you may be feeling the same?

‘While naturally there’s no playbook for the current situation, at a leadership level it can be approached like any other crisis, and relying on your emotional intelligence skills, empathy, and self-compassion in particular can help you communicate with your team.

‘Ask yourself: what would I want to hear from a leader right now? What messages and tone would be reassuring? If you have tough news to convey – whether it’s that you’re pressing pause on a project or you won’t be able to give bonuses – think about it from the perspective of those receiving it.

‘Your people are likely worried about their futures and will want reassurance. Give it to them, but don’t be tempted to sugarcoat difficult news. If you paint a rosy picture that turns out to be a lie, you’ll lose the team’s trust and risk appearing disconnected from reality. At the same time, don’t be too negative either. Be honest about what you’re up against but also emphasise that you believe the team can get through this (assuming, of course, that you do). Focus on the capabilities the team has, whether that’s resilience, deep domain knowledge, an uncanny ability to connect with customers, or something else altogether.

‘Strike that balance while being as transparent as possible. It’s OK to admit when you don’t know the answer to a tough question. Be clear about your decision-making process – how people can have input and how you’ll use that feedback to inform your choices. Research shows that people are willing to accept negative outcomes as long as they believe there was a fair process for making those decisions.

‘Make sure you’re taking care of yourself too. Eat well, get exercise and lots of sleep, and perhaps most importantly, choose self-compassion. Beating yourself up when you can’t deliver everything that your team needs is not going to help you or your team move forward. Think about how a friend or trusted colleague would counsel you during these tough moments. They’d likely tell you that you’re doing the best you can under extremely challenging circumstances – which is true. It’s worth reminding yourself that being a leader doesn’t mean you don’t deserve compassion too. You do.’

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