These past few months have been particularly intriguing for me from a manager’s standpoint. It is one thing to be thrown into the COVID-19 whirlpool of uncertainty and then add the fantastic, yet disruptive, layer of your employer’s changing of the guard. In the blink of an eye, you get the absolute perfect storm of distraction. So how do you keep your teams focused, grounded, and positive in a climate of heightened anxiety? For me, the biggest takeaway from this unprecedented situation is the power of communication and transparency.
Here is what I’ve learned
Practice empathy, and “hear” before you respond. While under duress or stress, individuals’ minds tend to be clouded by the sheer weight of anxiety. Giving people the opportunity to process at their own pace and in their own style is often a first step to creating room to process change. As a people manager I remind myself every day that my job is to listen first and to respond only after I’ve heard. In her Ted Talk “10 ways to have a better conversation,” Celeste Headlee highlights listening as the foundation of a real and meaningful exchange. It’s worth giving it a try!
ROB is essential. ROB, or the rhythm of business, is an essential component of an effective communication strategy. Start with a clear message and content, and then pair it with a consistent cadence of interactions, either meetings, postings, or live appearances, where individuals will have the opportunity to get facts, connect with one another, and most importantly stay informed and linked to a reliable source of information. Predictability matters: it actually matters a lot. Often, that’s all that individuals need—to know that there is something constant and predictable in the midst of chaos.
Err on the side of overcommunication. We often hear that “less is more.” In this case, I respectfully disagree. Stating what you know, backing it up with data, and repeating it as often as needed is an effective way to alleviate anxiety and get the message across. Oftentimes during a crisis individuals take a long time to absorb the information they are given; they have tendency to compartmentalize, and need to hear the same information several times before they are in a frame of mind to hear it and internalize it. Find ways to communicate using different mediums or styles—which leads me to my next takeaway.
Take into consideration different communication styles. Not all humans communicate in the same way or have the same capabilities—one size does not fit all. Make sure that you are effective in connecting with your audience at large; some like to consume information visually, others auditorily, and some in a written format. Some may have impairments that require accommodations. Make sure that you use all means of communication at your disposal, so your varied and diverse audience is able to consume your information. Consider a combination of channels including text, video, interactive tools, online meetings etc. The list of tools and platforms is endless! Be creative and resourceful and quiz your team on their preferences, but most importantly, ensure that your communication can be consumed effectively by your audience.
Be a proactive communicator. When you establish a consistent communication framework, your content is crisp, and you maintain a predicable cadence, the noise and randomizing slowly vanishes. Why? Because there is no need for your team to speculate. They know when, how, and from whom to get the information they need. In case of misinformation or natural rumors, they know where to direct their attention and can taper the roar to a slow hum. This results in keeping individuals and their collaborative performance as close to normal as possible, and contributes to a high morale.
Don’t underestimate honesty and transparency; state what you know and admit what you do not know. The value of trust cannot be understated, especially at a time of stress and uncertainty. The truth is always better than a made-up answer. State what you know and can disclose, and be honest about what you don’t know or what you’ll disclose when you can. This can often cause anxiety, but the benefits that you harvest from a transparent conversation about the unknown are the foundation of a trusting and committed working relationship. Your team needs to know that you will always speak truthfully.
In the end, it’s all about human connection! And yes, physically distanced human connection. COVID-19 and my company’s recent acquisition by Accenture have shown me that developing, establishing, and nurturing consistent and transparent communication channels with your teams as a best practices is a win no matter whether you are under duress or not! Be available, be approachable, and be truthful, with a twist of empathy