Empathy in Crisis Management

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    View things through your audience’s eyes and gain valuable crisis communications insights

    It’s become fairly accepted that, when found to be in the wrong, organizations should explain what happened, how they plan to set things right, and how they plan to prevent the same issue from occurring again.

    One critical factor that’s often missing, however, is described below in a quote from Cheryl Smithem’s Charleston PR blog:

    If your firm finds itself involved in a scandalous situation, always put yourself in the emotional place of an outside onlooker. Feel their intense emotions – then respond to those emotions with sincere statements of sympathy for the victims. While you must also address the details of the incident and how it will be prevented in the future, any missteps in addressing the intense emotions of onlookers who put themselves in the place of the victim will leave your firm damaged, no matter how well you mitigate physical or financial damage.

    While Cheryl’s post addressed the handling of the sexual abuse case at the South Carolina military college, The Citadel, the same rules apply to just about any crisis.

    If you want stakeholders to be receptive to your crisis management messaging, you first have to convince them that you care about them and understand the negative emotions they are feeling. We’ve all heard the term, “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes,” right? Well, before you even begin to craft your crisis messaging, take a mental walk in the shoes – and hearts – of the affected parties, and do your very best to understand what they are thinking, and feeling, at that very moment.

    A hallmark of a great crisis manager is the ability to empathize. Get in tune with your stakeholders, say the words that are needed to unlock their ears, and your messaging can do its work.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, and author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also the editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]