Red Freezies (aka tips for handling crisis communications)

Leah Andrew
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Communicating during periods of high stress

I realize we are in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, with many companies focused on transformation, but I’m going to shift gears for a second.  Bear with me, and you’ll see how my recent off grid canoe trip with 3 kids under the age of 9 does in fact link back to pandemic marketing. Let me tell you, there are some hard lessons in handling crisis communications.

At the beginning of August, my husband and I decided to take our three kids aged 8, 6, and 3 on a three day canoe trip. We’ve always had a wonderful time on canoe trips as adults, and started incorporating this annual trip with our little ones last year.

There we were, at the end of the 3 day canoe trip.

It was 5pm.  The kids were hot, hungry and tired.  But, we still had to drop the canoe back to the outfitters. We needed to bide some time. Plus, this was no ordinary lightweight canoe that you just pop off the roof and drop on the ground. This was a 85lb (…going on 300 lb) canoe. It was going to take a while.  

So, we did what any good parents do – we bought some freezies. (Note – we can spend another post debating whether this was a good decision, but we did it, and now we have these lessons.) 

No sooner had we ripped open the freezie tops thinking we’d be able to unload the canoe in relative calm, then all 3 of them came spilling out of the car, crying.

What had happened?

Our eldest was tired of helping out the youngest because it meant her freezie was melting. The youngest was crying because he couldn’t eat it himself. The middle one was crying, well, just because.

3 tips for handling crisis communications

During that moment when they came out of the car, we had a choice. We could muscle through and get the canoe off the roof so we could then deal with the freezie problem. Or, we could stop, listen and troubleshoot. We did the latter, and upon reflection, there are 4 quick crisis communications tips leaders can apply in any stressful situation (red freezies optional):

1. Show empathy - even if you don’t understand.

Sometimes you might not understand why something is a big problem for someone else.  However, you should always try to put yourself in their shoes. And while you’re at it, don’t be afraid to hold their hand. In the end, I was the one holding the freezie while my youngest bit off what he wanted.

TIP: RESIST THE URGE TO SPEED THINGS ALONG. While I may have wanted to pretend the freezie was done after every painstakingly slow bite, he would have noticed and that would have caused more tears. Instead, do the right thing from the get go and settle in for the long haul.

2. Know where to focus your attention.

Try to hone in on the root of the problem, because once that’s handled, it has the ripple effect of solving other bumps.  When they all spilled out of the car, every single one of them was crying about something. But it was being able to zone in on the fact that my eldest was upset because she had to hold the youngest’s freezie and as a result, couldn’t enjoy her own. The youngest was responding to her frustration.  Focusing on helping the youngest enjoy his freezie enabled the oldest to then enjoy hers. It removed the drama for all (and allowed our middle child to go back to what he was already doing – enjoying his grape freezie).

TIP: SEEK OUT HANDY FRAMEWORKS. When you find yourself handling crisis communications, what are the frameworks to effectively assess and prioritize immediate next steps? Check out this webinar for leaders in times of crisis. It offers strategies and frameworks to address uncertainty with calm, strength, and clarity.

3. Remember to 'see the forest for the trees'

Amidst all of this – the crying, the short tempers, the aching arms, the dust – I reminded myself to see the big picture.  I tried to find the humour and not worry (too much) about the sticky red dye #34 that was likely all over the inside of my car and certainly staining my Toddler’s cheeks. We had just finished an amazing 3 day trip, full of fun and memories. This was just another bump in the road.  In the words of my mother, “this too, shall pass.”

TIP: IT'S ALL ABOUT PERSPECTIVE. Handling crisis communications requires a level head and a strong sense of values - your own and your company’s.

What other tips do you have for leaders who find themselves communicating during times of stress? Share with us @andrewperrymktg

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