Overarching principles for crisis communications
Focus on trust
The overriding goal of crisis communications is to interact in ways that build, maintain, or restore trust. This is true across cultures, political systems, and levels of economic development.
Communicate early and often
You are always better off being the first to communicate bad news. It puts you in control of the message. In the absence of information from a credible source, people will look to the media for information or draw their own conclusions.
- Communicating early shows you are not hiding anything.
- Communicating early ensures dissemination of accurate information.
- Communicating often diminishes the information vacuum.
- Communicating often establishes you as the primary source for credible information (thereby diminishing the potential for misinformation) (Shepherd 2005).
Listen for others’ concerns
- Even if a concern is misplaced or inaccurate, acknowledge the emotions behind it and then address the concern directly. “I hear how concerned you are for your child’s well-being, so let me share what we know…”
- Always communicate with compassion and empathy.
- Connect with those affected by the issue.
- Avoid being arrogant or paternalistic.
Share information, exhibiting honesty, candor, and openness
Transparency in communication is essential. Research shows that people are more likely to overestimate risk if information is withheld.
- Speak in plain language (do not use jargon or complex medical or public health terms).
- Do not preach.
Acknowledge uncertainty and ambiguity
Reporters and the public do not like to be “spun,” “managed,” or put off. Most people can accept uncertainty if they are told the process that is in place to resolve outstanding questions.
Adapted from: Heath RL. Best practices in crisis communication: evolution of practice through research. J Applied Communication Research. 2006;34(3):245–48.