Shawn Maher

When What You Say Matters Most, Choose Your Words Carefully

During this worldwide health crisis, brands should be communicating frequently with their customers and stakeholders. And even more importantly, listening carefully. Maximizing your Return on Empathy is crucial right now, and communication is a large part of that. 

However, when it comes to crisis communications, nobody’s getting an A for effort. It’s NOT the thought that counts. People will hang on your every word and find deeper meaning in any ambiguity or thoughtless turn of phrase. It’s imperative that leaders and marketers take great care in choosing the right words. 

In times like these, your words will be remembered forever. Your words can engender loyalty and inspire people to come together to lift up each other. However, the wrong words can create a sour taste that, no matter what you do, may never go away. So when you choose your words, remember these three points. 

Do not place blame or make excuses. Put the onus for progress on yourself. 

This is the time for strong, clear directives. Provide an unwavering vision for how you plan to move forward. A plan with caveats, escape hatches and ambiguity is unlikely to be taken seriously at best…and destined for catastrophic failure at worst. 

Ensure that your customers, employees and stakeholders know that you have accounted for them and you have a plan in place moving forward. It’s not always going to be a happy message or a best-case scenario. But your upfront honesty and empathy will prove to be the best long-term strategy. 

Do not tell people what to do. Inspire them to do it.

There’s a reason why we’ve all heard the saying, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. Effective leaders do not provide commandments and speak from an authoritarian position. They provide the inspiration to achieve. They speak to their audience respectfully, giving them the facts and the framework for a plan. 

An empathetic leader motivates, appeals to passion and lets others share in the credit for successfully executing a plan. They provide the map and empower you to reach new heights. Instead of giving you fish, they teach you to fish. Dig deep into your empathy and understanding. You will find that it is the glue that unites us all. 

Do not mislead or misdirect. Speak and act in a forthright manner.

This seems obvious, of course. However, sometimes leaders in a time of crisis can lean towards ambiguous communications. And the thing is, it doesn’t come from a malicious place. When our situation is constantly changing and our understanding of the health crisis is constantly evolving, it’s natural to not have all the answers. Plans may have to change. And sometimes leaders don’t have all the answers.

However, an empathetic leader can communicate these things. Your audience will be grateful to know that you are still actively seeking new information and solutions. You don’t have to have it all figured out. Nobody expects that. 

Constant communication, empathetic listening and ensuring that everyone remains abreast of the latest developments may not bring certainty, but it will certainly engender trust. During a crisis, leaders who contradict themselves or speak with bravado only to be proven wrong will breed uncertainty and create mistrust. And once you lose the trust of your customers and your organization, it can be difficult (if not impossible) to regain. 

Now is the time for strong leaders, but also leaders who are thoughtful. Your marketing, PR and communication efforts must reflect that. There’s no cure-all here, but true leaders rise to the occasion. You undoubtedly have a vision. We can help you communicate it. Get in touch and we can discuss how you can benefit from approaching your communications with one important metric –  Return on Empathy. It can lead to increased customer and employee loyalty which is invaluable to a brand.