The events of 2020 have dramatically altered the communication landscape in which leaders must operate. This year has been so filled with crises that memes speculating on what could be next are a prevalent feature in my social media feeds.

As leaders, we must understand that emotions run high during a crisis, with fear and anger often being dominant. Further, an individual’s emotional response to a crisis frames how they will interpret your words, actions and events during that crisis.

Emotionally charged situations fill the communication environment with landmines, and leaders must exercise even greater discernment than in normal times. During a crisis, an off-the-cuff post or comment that would be an afterthought in normal times may go viral – and not in a positive way.

When tensions are high, leaders must think before they speak, post, or hit “send.”

As a leader, you should choose your battles carefully. Is the issue one you should weigh in on, or is it better left alone? Will engaging in a particular discussion bring value to your organization, or will it only bring turmoil?

Additionally, you should consider your motive. Are you responding out of anger or frustration, or are you responding because you believe doing so will make a positive difference?

Further, if you do choose to speak or comment, you should consider how your words and actions will be interpreted as well as how they could be misinterpreted. This requires an understanding of the communication environment and the temperament and perspectives of your key stakeholders. It requires an awareness of one’s own blind spots and an ability to see things from the perspective of others. Consider how your employees, clients, members, board members and other key stakeholders might respond to your off-the-cuff comment or post.

Finally, you should have multiple people with different perspectives review communication about a controversial issue, particularly when tensions are high. It is important to choose people who will be candid and tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. It’s equally important that you be open-minded and receptive to their feedback.

Crises fill the communication environment with landmines that can be triggered by an off-the-cuff post or comment. Thinking before you speak, post or send can prevent unnecessary damage to you, your organization, and they serve.

Frank Williams is president of Pioneer Strategies, a public relations and strategic communication firm based in Leland.

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