Dealing with the Unknown

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, employees are experiencing more and more fear of the unknown. They may be wondering, “What does this mean for my company, my job, and my future?” Not knowing the answers to these questions can cause an extreme amount of stress and anxiety. However, according to Paul Argenti, Professor of Corporate Communication at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, the way team leaders should be communicating with team members during the COVID-19 pandemic is similar to how they needed to communicate during other crises, such as 9/11.

How to Communicate

Amy Edmondson, the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, explains that all team leaders need to be transparent with their communication. The situation is constantly evolving and being honest about what you know and what you don’t know is crucial. From there, it’s important to communicate with team members what you are doing to close the information gap. Edmondson states that your goal should be to “articulate a sense of possibility and hope.” Accomplishing this can be incredibly difficult, so listed below are tips from both Argenti and Edmondson that have been outlined in a recent Harvard Business Review article.

Tips for Communicating During a Crisis

  • Take Care of Yourself: These times are stressful for you as well and in order to be a strong leader, you have to “put your oxygen mask on first.” Eat healthy, exercise frequently, and get plenty of sleep each night.
  • Make a Plan: During a crisis it is critical to communicate early and often. With that in mind, create a strategy that includes what platform you will be using and how often you will send out updates. Be sure to inform employees on your strategy so they are aware of where and when to expect information.
  • Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Think about the situation from your team members’ point of view and decide what you would want and need to hear. Your goal is to allay their fears as much as you can while staying humble, honest, and consistent.
  • Be Responsible: Only share information that you have been 100% greenlighted to share. Argenti explains that you have a responsibility to the company, so don’t even hint at information that is not ready to be released. You are also responsible for making sure team members are fully informed, so never sugarcoat information.
  • Inspire and Support: One of the most important things a team leader can do is inspire and support their team. Communicate how capable the team is, be encouraging, give recognition and feedback frequently, and be clear that the team will get through the crisis. Check in on team members often, relate to what they are going through and offer support in any way you can.
  • Use the Coordinated Clearinghouse: Edmond explains that your organization should create a “coordinated clearinghouse” for employees’ questions and concerns. Be sure to direct employees to this resource so they can get information directly related to their needs.

Edmondson states that the best thing to do “is to maintain your compassion while explicitly acknowledging the high level of uncertainty that currently exists.” For additional information on how to communicate with team members during a crisis, click here!

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