A recent conversation with my nearly five-year-old daughter has reminded me of the basics of crisis communications. She started the discussion as follows:
“Mommy, I’m a little bit worried about something that happened in school today.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Sweetie,” I said. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“Not really, but I guess I have to,” she sighed. “You’ll find out anyway, and then you’ll be even more upset with me.”
She then proceeded to launch into a tale of angst and woe about how her best friend had said she wanted to throw sand at her, so my daughter called her a name and said she wasn’t her friend anymore – a crushing blow to a 5 year-old’s psyche. When this friend started crying, the teacher scolded both of them for being mean.
I thanked her for telling me and gave her some guidance about how she might handle things better “next time.”
So, what can we learn from this little exchange? Maybe not ALL we need to know about crisis communications, but darned close.
- Bad news almost always gets out. You need to share it before it leaks.
- It is better to inform others of bad news or transgressions yourself so that you can help explain your position and cast things in the best possible light.
- It doesn’t matter if someone else is partly to blame. Your actions are your actions, and you will be held accountable for them.
- Never, ever, lie or stretch the truth. As I told my daughter, I would rather hear an ugly truth than a pretty lie. So would your investors, customers and employees.
- Preparation is half the battle. Companies who have made the effort to develop strong relationships and a sense of trust with their publics – through an open exchange of ideas and a higher sense of transparency – are not unlike a basically good kid in the eyes of a loving mother: much more easily forgiven.
These rules seem so simple, but how often have we seen them disregarded by politicians or corporate leaders who think they can buck the rules and game the system? The recent example of Congressman Anthony Weiner comes to mind. As a PR professional, I marveled at the hubris of assuming that one could lie one’s way through obvious culpability. I also speculated that had he only told the truth and asked for forgiveness, it would have resulted in a two-day news cycle, rather than his resignation.
Perhaps we all need a good dose of kindergarten wisdom every now and then . . .