Communicating During Uncertainty: How to Bring Clarity to the Chaos
It’s one of the most critical life skills nobody talks about. It has the ability to transform our personal and professional lives. And the pandemic has been the ultimate test, forcing all of us to reexamine our strengths and weaknesses. I’m talking about communicating during a crisis.
While communication today is a struggle for everyone, it’s especially difficult for employers. Faced with new and unexpected challenges, they are being asked questions they don’t have the answers to. And this is completely understandable; with everything changing so quickly, it’s hard to keep up and make sense of it all.
Now, with the election rapidly approaching, stress and anxiety are at an all-time high. Opinions are divided, and leaders are having to address everyone’s concerns without choosing sides.
In a time where hard conversations are becoming the new norm, it’s important to know how to navigate them. Many people associate hard conversations with confrontations, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. It all depends how you approach the situation, and shifting your mindset is the first step.
1. Have an intention
Like all aspects of life, what you imagine you create. This also applies to your interpersonal interactions. If you walk through the door expecting a fight, chances are that’s exactly what will happen. The best course of action is to replace your expectations with an intention.
Ask yourself, “when I speak to someone, what is my intention? What do I want to accomplish during this conversation?”
By having an intention, it keeps your mind open to diverse perspectives. In the workplace, you will have coworkers say things you don’t agree with and that’s okay. And this brings me to my next point…
2. Understand that acceptance does not mean agreement
In an effort to stand firm in their beliefs, many people think they need to speak up. However, listening and acknowledging someone’s point of view doesn’t mean you agree with what they’re saying. You’re simply accepting how they think and feel, even if it’s a different viewpoint from your own.
This is why many leaders struggle to have open and honest conversations. And it’s a shame because knowing how to communicate and connect in this way will have a positive ripple effect not only in your business, but in every other aspect of your life.
“Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind,” researcher Brené Brown writes in her book, Dare to Lead.
In other words, be clear with your thoughts and feelings. You can be honest without being cruel. For example, if your employee is underperforming, unclear communication is “you’re not getting it” and clear communication is “I’m concerned after yesterday’s meeting. I want you to succeed in this role. Let’s brainstorm what we can do to improve the situation.”
Also, when you gossip, you’re being unkind. Kind is addressing someone directly with the intention of having a real conversation.
Another example is saying to someone, “yes I love that idea” and then going behind that person’s back and saying “I hated that idea.” That’s being passive aggressive and unkind.
Clear and kind communication is being able to say “thank you for sharing your idea, but I think it could use some work. Here’s what I’m thinking.”
The goal is to be able to respectfully disagree with someone without harboring anger or resentment. It’s striking the balance between being compassionate and assertive.
3. Take a proactive approach
Uncertainty escalates stress and anxiety, so the sooner you share information, the better. That’s why, in the midst of a crisis, it’s important to share what you know and what you don’t know with your team.
In fact, when it comes to having a difficult discussion, employers agree it’s important to “maintain high levels of visibility, so employees are certain of top management’s command of the situation and concern.”
If there’s an issue, don’t wait. Being proactive demonstrates your dedication to finding a solution and resolving the conflict. The bottom line: it shows you care.
4. Be accessible
Accessible leaders are fully present and focused. They communicate often and make their team comfortable coming to them with question and concerns.
Accessibility and transparency go hand-in hand. When challenges arise, your team will turn to you for support and guidance. Keep your team informed and explain why you’re making certain decisions. While you are not expected to have all the answers, you are expected to take all of the information available and choose the best course of action.
The bottom line: it’s not always what you say, it’s how you say it. The better you are at communication, the better positioned you are to succeed in work and in life.