Communicating in a Crisis

There is NOTHING like a crisis to make anyone really sharpen their language and communication codes so that the impact of the situation is contained and that there is time for resolution and moving forward.

This involves using the 5Cs of communication and using them carefully and systematically.

  1. Concise language.

Time is scarce both in terms of what you have to do and in terms of the press who will probably be tracking the situation. If they are involved they will need a snapshot of the issue and this is now a great chance to get YOUR side of the story across. Avoid waffle and padding at all costs and definitely no confusing technical jargon or detail.

Use the “grab” technique; short succinct phrases that the audience can identify and absorb. Good “grabspeek” is characterised by;

  • Short sentences
  • Fairly short words
  • Colourful, imaginative language that might include an analogy, a metaphor, a figure of speech or even humour (if you are confident enough to do so)
  • A personal feel
  • Vocabulary and expression that summarise a complex situation
  • Variety of tone and pitch
  • Confident delivery

First Priority – your first 2-4 “must says”

Second Prioirty – your 2-6 “like” to says

Third Priority – any other points you can get across

  1. Clear language.

You must speak in very simple, plain language – your own specialised language within your organisation (your Communication Code) is the very last thing you should be using here. Jargon tells the audience nothing, is annoying and shows that you are hiding behind words that have meaning that the outside world does not understand.

Make sure that when speaking you are continually self-editing what is coming from your mouth; make sure that any private conversation is not morphing into a public conversation.

  1. Cool language.

This shows that you have not lost control of the situation. It is very important to use words that cannot be misconstrued or misunderstood or taken out of context. Many written words can be reduced, changed in terms of their order and then emerge as something that was both not intended and not said.  If you appear panicked then a series of further panics emerges quickly making the situation worse. Panic can also be conveyed through verbal inflection and volume.

Panic Language Cool Language
We don’t know what’s going on. The situation is not clear at the moment.
God knows how many people are injured in there We hold serious fears for some of those injured.
It’s just out of control We are having difficulty I controlling it.
Get out while you can! Please evacuate the area now!
  1. Concrete language

This is language that relates to the real world rather than an abstract one. Abstract language is like jargon language in that it conveys a bureaucratic, unreal feel to the communication process.

Concrete language can be aided by the use of analogies, metaphors, proportions, percentages and figures of speech.

Abstract expression Concrete expression
The amount spilled is approximately 50,000 litres. We think the amount spilled is about 50,000 litres. That’s about enough to fill three average backyard swimming pools but in the Bay itself its roughly equivalent to half a teaspoon in a swimming pool.
  1. Concerned language

This shows that you are emotionally in tune with what is happening in the world outside the organisation. You are seeing things from the point of view of others. Be direct and use compassionate, real-world language.

Gobbledegook Concerned language
It is not the company’s policy to indicate our position vis-à-vis anyone involved in this situation. We regret what has happened to the men working in that section and will do everything in our power to help them.
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