Speak from the heart when times get tough

Speak from the heart when times get tough
June 25, 2015 Susan Redden Makatoa

Susan-at-IABC-conference-USA-squareMaking a tough announcement – it’s something we’ll all face as communicators. It might be having to lay off staff – or dealing with an incident like fire or flood – or your service being shut down due to technical difficulties. Some of these can be forseen. Some simply can’t. Some will knock you sideways, like the Lindt Café siege in Sydney, which had far-reaching effects nobody would have predicted.

Here’s an approach will help you out. It’s all about bringing the human touch – a bit of heart – to communicating when it would be easier to hide behind corporate speak. I’d like you to join me in saying “not on my watch” when it comes to weasel words during issues or crises. When you’re dealing with a difficult issue, it’s time to speak clearly. This is what will win trust, and trust is the one thing you need if you’re going to come through the other side.

One great rule to guide you in communicating the tough stuff is C-A-P. That’s Concern, Action, Perspective.

First and foremost, ALWAYS, and I mean EVERY TIME, speak of your CONCERN for the people affected. Say one of your employees has been injured in a workplace accident. The concern you express is for that staff member and his loved ones. Then you speak of his workmates. Then, you might speak on behalf of the whole company – about how people are feeling. Remember – people first. Then family. Then workmates. Then company. Then community…..equipment, productivity, and profit should not even rate a mention. Resist any pressure to include them.

When it comes to action, outline the ACTION you are taking. In the first instance it might be providing support for family and workmates and halting production. Then it might be working with emergency services to determine what happened, and launching an independent investigation. Further down the track it could be announcing the cause and what measures are being taken…you get the picture.

PERSPECTIVE – this is one you must handle carefully. This is where you deliver the facts so that people get the whole picture. In this instance, it would be that an accident occurred in which one staff member was injured and taken to hospital. All other staff have been accounted for and the site has been closed for the day.

In the case of a company restructure, you might say that the number of staff has been reduced by 75, to 800 people. What you mustn’t do is use the word “only” – if “only” one person goes to hospital or “only” 75 people have lost their jobs, it’s hardly communicating with heart.

Remember, it’s always about the people.

Excerpt from Ogilvy Group Managing Director – Corporate Susan Redden Makatoa’s speech to the IABC Global Conference in San Francisco.