What’s the First Thing to Do in Every Crisis Situation?

Crisis Communications

The first thing you should do in every crisis situation is verify the facts, verify everything. Do not rely on hearsay. Do not accept the premise of any accusations or allegations on face value. Do not respond to any questions or media queries or other types of queries until you’ve had the chance to verify, as much as you can know, what’s true and what is not.

Do not underestimate the possibility that what you may be hearing, as valid as it sounds, could easily be rooted in rumor or incomplete information.

Too many communications pros and their organizations overreact at times of crisis. They automatically accept the premise of accusations, or they automatically assume that they sense they know the cause or trigger of the crisis, when in reality, they do not.

Worse, they overreact based on immediate public perceptions because they fear if they don’t do or say something, they will be seen as uncaring or unresponsive.

In the “heat of battle,” it can be awfully tempting to say something publicly, to use words to try to start to put the situation behind you, even before the earliest phases of the situation have fully unfolded. And when you have yet to verify the most basic of facts.

Here’s why you need to verify the facts: 

  1. The only way to build trust is through reliable, accurate and thorough information: It’s also the best way to ensure that when you do communicate, you are not setting yourself up to have to backtrack on your words later when new information comes to light. 
  2. Bad information exacerbates the crisis: One of the traits of a good crisis manager is that of a calming force. In every crisis situation, crisis leadership must reduce panic so that decision-makers can do what they need to do with clarity and understanding. This translates into the decided effort to calm the public so that as you communicate what’s happening and what you’re doing about it, the public is not so panicked they can’t understand what you’re trying to say and do. Calming the communications landscape is the first order of business. Bad information creates inconsistencies, confusion, and ultimately less trust and more panic. Again, you don’t want to have to correct yourself once the crisis starts. That is a self-inflicted wound you don’t need.

In the end, the goal in the earliest stages of any crisis is not to make mistakes, not to hurt your credibility, and to calm your key stakeholders. This is how you lay the groundwork for all crisis-related communications. And it begins with verification of the facts.

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Tim is the author of the book called “The Essential Crisis Communications Plan: A Crisis Management Process that Fits Your Culture.” He is founder of O’Brien Communications and has provided crisis communications and issues management support to clients from Fortune 100 firms and national nonprofits, to emerging start-ups. Tim has handled hundreds of crises, large and small over decades, working with some of the most iconic brands in the world along the way.

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