Communicating in Times of Crisis
I was glued to my television in a way that I had never been before. I watched in horror as the twin towers in New York City fell. I saw people falling to their death. I saw people walking in ashes as they escaped. I listened to stories and to partial facts as they came in. Yes, September 11, 2001 affected everyone in the United States and really our world. It still does.
But I also had other thoughts and pressures as I watched in disbelief. Life would change from this point on and I had people that looked at me to lead them through it. It was a Tuesday. I was a pastor of a church that would look to God and be uncertain of what to do… how to be… how to deal with anxiety and how to overcome fear in the face of the unknown future.
You face it in every leadership situation. It may not be a terrorist attack on our soil but you face crisis at some point in everything you lead.
We are not going to focus on what to do in crisis in this article, but I do want to talk about communicating in times of crisis. How can you lead others in times of crisis?
Let me give you some keys:
- Model peace. Speak Hope. Those two go together in times of crisis. Model peace. Speak hope.
I love Jesus’ words that say, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” When we communicate anxiety and fear, it is a reflection of what is going on inside of us. The spiritual leader MUST get to the place where what we teach and preach to others is personified. In crisis, God gives peace. In the storms of life, God is there.
I remember in times of personal crisis, as well as after September 11, needing to go and make sure that the joy and peace that God promises was something that I was counting on. Peace. And then from peace come words of hope.
So in communicating in times of crisis, the words and the tone of voice reflect what is going on inside of us.
Secondly, let me get more specific:
- Communicate what can be counted on.
Crisis leads people to see and feel the shakiness of this world. Life is actually so much shakier than many of us feel. Security is kind of an illusion. Again, spiritual leadership is different in that its foundation can’t be shaken.
Statements like, “this is God.” Or “this doesn’t change.” Or even, “this is how we will be in this rocky time.”
This is the communication of stability in the time of crisis. BUT be careful. Don’t communicate something that isn’t stable. I have heard leaders declare that things will change or that this is a new reality, when “it” is an unknown. What do we know? Communicate the known in crisis.
- This is how we will be going forward.
Words must lead to action. Often communicating in times of crisis centers around values. For example, sometimes in crisis it is important to state how we will get up tomorrow and strive to work hard, love each other and move forward. It is of utmost importance to communicate that we will keep going. Even if it is just a little bit at a time.
I remember in the hardest times of my life people speaking into my life with those words. Tomorrow we will get up and we will move forward.
When I was in crisis I had a friend who called me pretty much every day and he would ask, “How was today?”
One last communication that I would give you in times of crisis. As you lead others, some of the people you lead will go through personal hardships. They will look for words from you. Here is what I have learned. Don’t fake it… don’t give advice. The best communication you can give to someone else in times of crisis is that you are there with them.
“I am here.” That’s a pretty powerful communication.
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How do you handle crisis? How does your church or organization deal with the unexpected?