“When it comes to internal communication in times of crisis, team members expect fast, clear and honest information. In doing so, they tolerate the full truth much better than most managers think they do. No matter whether it’s about short-time work, plant closure or relocation – this is where plain language comes in.”

This is our experience from the last 15 years of communications consulting when it comes to crisis and change communication.

Try not to talk the subject down or use the subjunctive. An iceberg is an iceberg and not a “possible challenge for the whole team” which we will “probably have to face soon”.

In other words, if the crew is already wearing life jackets before you speak to them, you will be late. You will then not only have a communication problem: Their trust in you as captain is damaged.

No one will later blame you for having changed course calmly but decisively and possibly too soon. The other way around, for sure.

Better: If possible, explain the situation to all team members at the same time, outline the necessary next three steps and the consequences if everyone does not act together now. Show the common solution and how long it will take.  Say when it starts and what needs to be done first. In our experience, affected employees in such situations expect clear leadership with the possibility for dialogue at a later stage.

Above all: Draw a realistic picture of what the situation will be like after the necessary measures have been taken. For example, a safe company that can do without redundancies. Everyone is still on board; the ship has not sunk.

In unclear and immediately dangerous situations or change processes, many employees are not interested in a democratic discourse on the necessary change of direction. Rather, it is about the need to be managed in a spirit of trust. The crew wants to be able to rely on their captain.

However, employees often see the dangers much earlier than managers. They then share them in informal formats such as the “Flurfunk” or certain groups on the intranet. This is why the necessary change must also be announced in good time. Hesitation here means loss of trust.

Conclusion: Fast, clear and sincere communication is easy and almost free of charge, especially in difficult and extraordinary times. It is a sign of appreciation.

Appreciation creates closeness. Proximity creates trust. Both are necessary to get through difficult times successfully – without losing the team that needs them.

About the author

Oliver Dederichs studied business administration, language and communication, media and public relations at the Leuphana University Lüneburg. He was one of the founding partners of the agency in 1996. His consulting focus is on change and crisis communication as well as strategy consulting. Together with his team, he accompanies SMEs and internationally operating corporations through strategy development, crisis and/or change processes. Oliver Dederichs has been a lecturer at the Akademie für Publizistik for five years, where he focuses on the training and further education of PR consultants.