Lessons for Leaders 16: Communicating Trust in a Crisis

May 12, 2020 | Lessons for Leaders

LFL16 Communicating Trust in a Crisis

In times of crisis or change our leaders needs to communicate well.  To communicate well, they need to do this often.  Doing both these things is crucial to create trust in a workplace. Times of change within organisations can be tricky and the next few phases of lockdown are going to bring change and uncertainty.

In times of crisis or change our leaders needs to communicate well.  To communicate well, they need to do this often.  Doing both these things is crucial to create trust in a workplace.

Times of change within organisations can be tricky and the next few phases of lockdown are going to bring change and uncertainty. In order to lead this time well, organisations need to prioritise communication and staff wellbeing first – it will pay off in the long run.  In this time of crisis, where the change is so uncertain, everything relies on trust.

The World Happiness Report from 2013 found that there was less negative affect on people’s wellbeing, even during economic downturn, when there was high levels of trust and more social connection. 

Remember, trust isn’t going happen overnight.  It takes consistency.  Just think about children, as a parent (aka their leader) we need to follow through with promises or consequences.  I never told my kids anything too far ahead, partly because they would get so excited and it would create more questions (similar to the lockdown plan) but also in case something went wrong and we couldn’t deliver – this ensured there was trust in what we said we would do, will happen.

When we are young, we learn tell if someone is being untruthful.  It’s evolved within us as a form of self- protection to help us survive.  So the key message is: don’t say things you can’t follow through on.

When we communicate honestly, several purposes are served. It calms fears in employees, reinforces trust in an employer’s integrity and allows the opportunity for emotional support for everyone. 

For a leader, when they understand the psychology around the fears and worries that people have when encountering change, it makes it easier to work with and incorporate into their plan.  It enables leaders to include or respond to negativity and concerns.

When people have an idea of what is going to happen, or clear understanding that not all information is yet available (rather than thinking things are being kept from them) it calms their internal systems, reduces to stress, anxiety and worry.  When leaders communicate often and build trust it means employees are more positive and trusting about areas of uncertainty.

If you mess up, make a mistake or have to change what you’ve previously said or planned, then own up to that.  It takes longer to build trust that it does to lose it!

Providing structure to the communication also builds trust.  The UK government provides that structure in their communication by delivering updates at 5pm each day.  Organisations can do similar, daily or weekly.   Many companies are sending daily briefings and updates, but there’s value in live communications too where-ever possible.

Giving employees the structure so that they will hear from leaders at a certain time, in a certain way with the knowledge that they can trust the content will calm anxiety, stress and the emotional impact of the situation.  This helps them feel supported which, in turn, creates more trusting and more productive teams.

Effective communication, especially in a crisis tends to be based on three things (which we’ve also seen in the UK Government briefings).

  1. Admit the problem or situation  (The Why)
  2. Tell people how you are fixing it or what you are doing
  3. Inform comprehensively and continuously

However, underneath those three key areas, I expand on some of that in more detail on the podcast.

Also, if you don’t know.  You don’t know and say that.  You don’t have to be the leader with all the answers.  Sometimes we don’t have answers and it’s ok to say that.  At least that way your employees don’t think you’re hiding things and it shows your human side.

It’s ok for leaders to admit they don’t have the answers – trust and honesty in our communications is about being as transparent as we can. 

Reducing employee fears and building trust in leaders, greater honesty and transparency in communications also means employees know the “what’s in it for me” part of the change, re-structure, or crisis plan. Being honest with your staff not only breeds trust, it gets them on board with how you are going to get through it. 

And if you have any questions about today’s episode, I’ll be happy to go through anything that you need to hear.

In the meantime, don’t forget to leave a review and get in touch if you need help with communicating with your leaders or workforce at emma [at] emmalangton [dot] com.

This post discusses: coaching, coronavirus, crisis, leaders, leadership, resilience, trust
Emma Langton

Emma Langton

Executive Leadership Coach

Emma hosts the Lessons for Leaders podcast. Each week she brings you lessons, learnings, tips and advice to enable you to lead with ease in business, without stress, doubt and overwhelm so that I help you to increase your performance, be resilient and thrive in life. Emma has been providing coaching, training and therapeutic support for executives since setting up her business in 2011. Prior to that she spent over 20 years with people at the top of national and multi-national training and communication businesses.


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