Communicating During Times of Uncertainty

How Communication Can Clear Up a Fog

One of the ‘biggest’ questions people are asking now during the novel Corona pandemic is: how do you communicate in times of uncertainty?

The answer is that in periods of uncertainty we must communicate certainty.

When times are tough we need to hear a simple, concise and coherent message and plan that will enable us to have a vision of a future and a way to get through the tough times.

When all around us is chaos we crave clarity. On a battlefield uncertainty wreaks havoc. You don’t know where the bullets will come from, how the enemy will react and what they will do. It’s so loud you can’t even hear what your fellow soldiers are saying. This is called the “fog of war”. In all this chaos and uncertainty the one thing that has to be certain is the core message, the main idea that drives every one of your decisions and actions towards a clear goal despite the havoc. Doing business, running a company and managing people during this novel Corona pandemic is no different.

Periods of uncertainty are fertile grounds for speculation, conspiracy and decline in morale. The absence of a simple core message invites rumors, panic and confusion. We can see it around us today – in countries, like the United Kingdom, where the leaders are communicating mixed messages, people don’t know how to behave but in countries that have a clear message and plan, like South Korea, the population understands what to do and can work towards it. The same goes for the workplace. Leaders, managers and CEOs who can communicate a clear core message and plan, help their employees understand what is important and expected from them, and this ensures a greater sense of trust and stability.  

In reality, communicating and sticking to one main message is rarely done or not done well enough.

Why is this the case?

First, it’s because in times of uncertainty it’s not always obvious what the most important message is. We are so overwhelmed by the complexity of the situation that we cannot see the wood for the trees.

Second, we find it hard to let go of competing ideas because they all seem significant and we can’t decide which is the most important message. But here’s the thing – if you have more than one core message, you dilute your message and you are adding to the uncertainty instead of clearing it up.

Third, when we know the core message we assume it is also obvious to others and that we don’t need to spell it out. Wrong! Remember people desperately need certainty to balance the uncertainty. We need you to spell it out, to make it clear, to fill the void – to communicate leadership.

Here are five tips to help you communicate certainty:

  1. Clarity – identify the one most important message that brings value to your audience.
  2. Authenticity and Honesty – don’t shy away from the facts and the challenges. Address the rumors, the elephant in the room. People appreciate honesty.
  3. Concreteness and Specificity – don’t communicate your message through abstract ideas or clichés. We are pre-programmed to feel things for people not for abstractions. Relate to the specific challenges and issues of your customers, employees and company. Give concrete details, examples and stories that your audience can relate to. Don’t just say “we care” or “customers first” make it concrete, provide a benefit like “offer a discount” or “extend the terms”.
  4. Practical Empathy – it’s about acknowledging peoples’ concerns and going one step further – extending an invitation for them to share their concerns and showing the willingness to take practical steps to address them. 
  5. Vision – talk about the future. Communicate a vision of certainty. Remember uncertainty covers all aspects of pessimism so your job is to offer the certain and optimistic version of the vision!  

Once you have crafted your message of certainty, your effectiveness depends on you communicating your message with commitment and energy.  As the saying goes: “your audience cares only once they know you care”. And your audience will commit only if they feel you are committed.

In a nutshell – under uncertainty – be clear, authentic, specific, practically empathetic, and share your vision with energy and commitment. Only then can your communication begin to clear up the fog.