Crisis management lessons from parenthood

Whether communicating with humans large or small, being respectful, humble and selfless goes a long way toward defusing difficult situations.

Crisis comms lessons from parents

Being a parent is essentially a decades-long exercise in crisis management.

Whether you’re quelling tantrums, mending boo-boos, shutting down squabbles, striking bargains, delivering bad news, enforcing discipline, or ensuring equitable distribution of attention and resources, it all requires strategic communication. This is why parents tend to make great communicators and PR pros.

Of course, COVID-19 has plunged us all into an epic crisis for which there are no easy, clear-cut messaging answers. Communicators around the world are facing a daunting situation. However, so much of surviving and enduring this difficult season with reputations intact goes back to basic tenets taught by mighty moms and dear old dads around the world. Let’s review some of these fundamentals of crisis management through the lens of parenthood:

Give people choices. As Psychology Today offers, “Giving kids a say builds relationships and strengthens cooperation.” Providing choices develops problem-solving skills, and it scratches that innate human desire for control and autonomy. This is not something we grow out of.

Especially during this period of widespread insecurity and uncertainty, employees crave some semblance of control—whether it’s to do with how or when they work or getting options for messaging preferences. Instead of dictating “how it’s gonna be,” ask colleagues “how they’d like it to be.”

Give people a choice and a voice in matters large and small.

Treat people with respect. Don’t blow smoke at children or adults.

Respectful communication is about honesty and transparency and not providing false hope. It’s also about thoughtful segmentation.

Whether you’re delivering bad news to little ones or to work colleagues, you should respect your audience enough to personalize your message. Just as you’d explain the death of a pet more delicately to a 5-year-old than you would to a 14-year-old, not everyone in your company should get the same explanation for every occasion. Take time and make the effort to add individual flourishes to your messaging, and thoughtfully adjust the minutiae according to whom you’re addressing.

If you’re struggling with crafting a crisis message, ask yourself: How would I like to be told or treated in this scenario? The Golden Communication Rule is a potent workplace tool.

Be willing to pivot. A big part of parenting—and communication—is being humble or self-aware enough to learn from mistakes and change on the fly. Amid crises, be mindful of missteps. Take stock of where you’ve gone wrong and what’s not working, but also note new processes that seem to be clicking.

Who cares if it’s not the way you’ve always done it? So what if it wasn’t your idea? Now is a great time to try new things.

Crisis management requires dexterity, creativity and experimentation, so consistently ask colleagues (or kids) for fresh feedback, ideas and suggestions. You must be willing to evolve and eager to involve those around you in decision-making.

Think of others. It might seem counterintuitive to think of others when you’re in survival mode, but now’s the time to demonstrate your true colors. Even if you have to scale back financial commitments, find ways to serve and help folks in need. Support local heroes, and recognize those in your midst who are doing heroic things.

Thinking of others when you’re also struggling demonstrates character. It’s also good for us. According to Cleveland Clinic, studies find these health benefits associated with giving:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Less depression
  • Lower stress levels
  • Longer life
  • Greater happiness

Any of those sound good to you?

Aside from the personal benefits of giving, consider the long-term reputational risks of bailing on those “core values” your company (or family) touts so proudly. If you fail to walk the “CSR” talk now, when it really matters, your people will remember. Of course, if you step up in times of need, they’ll remember that, too.

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