COVID-19 has thrown the world into turmoil. Every day we are bombarded with statistics of new cases and new deaths. We are all suffering to some degree from the uncertainty of where the virus will hit next, how serious it will be, and how long it will last. Managers should communicate in times of uncertainty like these.
The Role of Managers
As a nation, we look to our medical experts for their advice on how to deal with the threat. But as employees, we look to our manager for information and guidance to carry us through.
Managers play a critical role in helping employees respond to a crisis, supporting organizational health, and managing change. How managers communicate can have a significant impact on how employees adjust to the challenge, how they cope emotionally, and how they emerge from uncertainty with a rejuvenated sense of trust and purpose.
How Managers Should Communicate in Times of Uncertainty
Here are six tips from new manager training experts for managers on how to communicate with your team when there are no easy or clear answers.
- Avoid Information Avoidance or Overload
Leaders are often afraid to share the brutal truth, and people’s capacity to take in and understand data is limited in a crisis and in times of uncertainty. If you give too much information, you risk overshadowing the important points and confusing the issue. If you conceal information, you risk losing trust.
Effective managers focus on what matters most. Share what you know, what you do not know, and when you will be able to fill in the gaps. This approach engenders trust, openness, and a sense of calm.
- Repeat and Repeat
Important messages require and deserve frequent repetition. In tense moments, communications are understood only partially. Don’t overestimate how many times the message must be restated and reinforced to be fully grasped by your team.
- Keep It Simple, Clear, and Positive
Use simple language to be sure your critical message is clear. Avoid jargon, platitudes, and histrionics. And remember that positively framed information is more readily received.
Focus on best practices and benefits rather than what people should not do.
- Be Straightforward and Calm
Even though the situation may have you as anxious as your employees, it is critical that you convey the message in an authentic, calm, and straightforward manner. You need to be truthful, explain the current situation, and offer your genuine understanding of their emotional turmoil.
Your team is watching you and your actions. What you do, perhaps even more than what you say, can earn their trust and relieve their concerns.
- Inspire Resilience
Recently, so many COVID-19 related messages from community leaders stress that “we’re in this together.” Whenever possible, it really helps to share the burden with those around you. In fact, dealing with uncertainty as a team and helping others cope can increase the sense of managing uncertainty successfully and enhance the feeling of resiliency.
- Focus on the Learning
Though it’s difficult in the midst of a crisis to put it in context, there will come a time when managers can help make sense of what has happened and what can be learned from the experience. Ask your team about their silver linings and listen carefully to their answers.
The Bottom Line
Effective communication is arguably a manager’s greatest asset. It is never more critical than in times of stress and uncertainty. As a manager, prepare for how you can lead your team from chaos to calm and, eventually, to meaning.
To learn more about how managers should communicate in times of uncertainty, download Leading Virtual Teams Challenges and 3 Winning Communication Strategies