The New Normal Communication Guidelines
Dear Someone Else’s Dad,
I’m kind of sick of my company’s impersonal corp-speak during the pandemic. The CEO just emailed all employees, “We remain confident that we can all succeed in these difficult times.” Hello?? My commissions are at zero. I’m so happy you’re confident! Are there any leaders who can admit they’re suffering too?
I’m so very sorry your CEO feels that it’s good practice to keep corpo-babbling. Good leaders have to acknowledge others’ emotions, whether people are joyous after an IPO, frustrated after the loss of a client, angry because of an acquisition, or devastated after a tragedy. Even better leaders are not afraid to open a window into their own emotional state or share a personal story about what motivates them. I think about this whenever I hear a business leader use generic phrases like the one your CEO used. Others are “We’re in this together,” “Like other CEOs, I feel that we can suffer through this out and come out stronger, and “I can tell you in one word what makes our firm great: our people” (that was two words, actually). I just wrote those three examples and have forgotten them already. But I still remember the very human and specific stories some CEOs told that made me understand who they are, what event changed their thinking, and what they are doing as a result of that the event. Look up Randall Stephenson’s (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThO74-oFt_Q). I guarantee you won’t forget it. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky’s recent message (https://news.airbnb.com/a-message-from-co-founder-and-ceo-brian-chesky/) to his employees about layoffs was thorough, respectful, and honest. It was appropriately long because he wanted to show his thought process, which led to a difficult decision that affected many people. He presented clear facts, but also allowed himself to display how they made him feel. Today and beyond, leaders need to think a bit before they communicate with their constituencies. Here are my suggestions:
1. Be present. During difficult times people crave comfort and stability. Leaders must communicate often in order to demonstrate that they understand people’s concerns and are on top of the issues. When leaders hide, rumor mills run rampant.
2. Be authentic. As I said above, audiences want to know how you’re feeling and how you made your decisions. There shouldn’t be a CEO-Face Joe and Regular-Face Joe; they are one and the same. Always present your true self.
3. Be empathetic. This is the hardest guideline to master. Never assume you know what people are thinking. Get out there and ask a lot of people how they’re faring and what they’re feeling. Use their stories (with permission!) to show that you’ve done your homework and are responding accordingly.
I’m sorry that your commissions have fallen. Everyone is facing challenges in how we run our businesses. I hope that my tips can remind your CEO and others how to communicate more effectively today and in whatever our new normal will be. Please do your best to be safe and healthy.