“There are literally no good options.”

How many times have you recently said that to yourself? Or spoken it out loud?

Remote or in-class learning

Stay open or temporarily close

Furlough or lay off

Attend the event or decline the invite

Require face coverings or not

As communicators, we help guide our teams through tough decision-making processes and share the right messages at the right times.

But what happens when every scenario just seems impossible? When each discussion comes with a steady stream of “but what ifs”? When the situation keeps changing? When either path forward may upset or possibly hurt a significant number of employees, business partners, customers or community members?

Now more than ever, we must trade in seemingly endless wordsmithing for the basics of good communications.

  • Thoroughly understand how decisions will affect various audiences. Think through likely questions so you can gather as many answers as possible in advance and note what is simply unknown.
  • Be transparent. In times of stress, organizations tend to insulate. While it may not be appropriate to disclose every detail, it is important to proactively inform audiences about how you are addressing challenges.
  • Be honest. Speak full truths as directly as possible. Don’t try to ease discomfort by putting an overly positive spin on a tough situation.
  • Most people just want to be heard. Be available for questions. Provide channels for dialogue. Respond as quickly and as humanly as possible.
  • Show empathy. Many people are struggling in some way or another, outwardly or not. Acknowledge when decisions make life more complicated. Thank them for their patience or flexibility or support. Extend help if you are able.
  • Show up. When the day-to-day is hard, simply show up. What this looks like will vary between organizations, though it may mean keeping a set office hour, sending a daily email, posting social media updates, walking the halls (socially distanced, of course), buying lunch, calling to check in or sending a handwritten note.

When the stakes are high and there are no good options for moving forward, you can control how to communicate the news and connect with important audiences. This may be one of the most critical decisions you can make today.