We are all operating in strange times. And at some point, you may be faced with making a controversial decision or facing a backlash that isn’t of your making. This is 2021.
This isn’t going to cover how you navigate Thanksgiving dinner with your ambiguously racist cousin, because honestly, I’d rather order Chinese takeout than deal with interfamily dynamics. Instead, this is about how to deal with the type of situation that can come out of left field and catch you and your staff or team unaware.
There’s no shortage of topics that can cause this, but there are specific ways to deal with it. Emotions are running incredibly high, conflicting and misinformation are rampant, and people are emboldened by the anonymity of the internet, groupthink/mob rule, and where they receive their information. All of this is out of your control.
So what happens when your phones start lighting up with a barrage of messages on social media, hits to your online reputation, and unfair online doxxing?
The first thing? Take a deep breath. This is likely to be short-lived, and if handled correctly, everything will be fine.
Next, just go ahead and scream into your pillow. You’re going to need to get a little frustration out. Because the truth is, there are only a few things you can control in these types of situations and voicing your frustrations will only worsen a situation. So get your frustration out, and get a booster shot of empathy.
Every situation is different and nuanced, so I want to share the basics of dealing with critical communications. It comes down to three things: Listen, be consistent, and be disciplined in your response.
- Step one (after you’ve screamed into your pillow): Write down the facts. Not the knee-jerk ones like “These people are (insert insult combined with swear words here),” but the facts. As in whether the incident at hand did or did not occur. You/your team took what specific action? What was the timeline for the event? What is being alleged or claimed, specifically? What was your response or action taken to? What actions have been taken by others? What other actions are you taking?
- Step two: Once you have your facts down, assess whether additional information is needed, action must be taken, or in more extreme cases, whether you should call in a legal and/or PR consultant to advise you on the next steps. Either with the help of an advisor, your team, or if you are just naturally good at this, craft a consistent, super-simple, and, where possible, transparent message. Being transparent will only be harmful to you if disclosing the information is illegal or a violation of privacy or policy, affects a legal outcome or isn’t pertinent to the matter at hand. What matters is that you are aware, you have taken steps to address it, and that there is a way the public or protesting parties can be heard directly.
- Step three: Assemble your team and staff and let them know who will be handling all inquiries. This should be one person. If your team is scattered to the wind, or not easy to reach in an email, or can call in for a meeting, directly call those who may not get the message.
- Step four: Do not avoid calls or emails, and do not use the phrase “No comment.” But share what you have determined is appropriate, listen, and thank them for sharing and end the call or thread. Determine an online response that takes the conversation offline and do not engage further online. We have an innate need to answer questions put to us or defend our point of view or business, but the truth is that you only need to share the essential facts to the problem.
As I mentioned, every situation is nuanced, and your response needs to be customized. Still, the key is to listen, share a consistent message, do not allow yourself or others on your team to be emotionally hijacked into any other response. Stay disciplined and on message, and you and your company will emerge on the other side of this.
And maybe buy an extra pillow.
Jen Neumann is owner and CEO of de Novo Marketing in Cedar Rapids.