The most common reaction to a crisis is the "fight or flight" syndrome. This is when an individual feels backed into a corner and acts defensively, or avoids dealing with the problem. Directly addressing the issue with appropriate officials, concerned interests, and the media is the difference between a disaster and an averted crisis. Many times in today’s highly publicized and politicized environment, how the issue itself is resolved is less important than how you handle the crisis. For purposes of community relations, we define "crisis" as any community situation which has escalated to the degree that it has the potential of jeopardizing an agency project or the operation of the agency itself.
Crisis Management Guidelines
Being prepared to respond efficiently and effectively in the event of a crisis is crucial. Whether it is negative community reaction to a project, or to the agency itself, it is important to have set guidelines which staff understands and can follow before a crisis arises. While every community incident is unique and there is no way to predict how a community or resident will respond to a given situation, the following should be considered in developing Crisis Management Guidelines:
· Assign a spokesperson(s) who is authorized to talk with the media and public officials
· Talk with local officials, including FAA, airport commission and city council members as early as possible
· Provide the facts, history and rationale
· Correct inaccuracies and misinformation
· Alert the network stakeholders, such as Chamber of Commerce and Homeowner Associations
· Avoid assigning blame
· Avoid defensiveness
· Be in the problem-solving mode with the desire to correct misinformation
· Do the necessary homework to understand the issue(s), interests and parties involved
· Encourage communication and initiate communication where possible
· Readily apologize and/or admit mistakes
· Demonstrate willingness to alter plans, projects and philosophies to incorporate new possibilities
Communicating Under Pressure
There are several key principles to apply in order to communicate effectively under pressure. The time to learn them is before a crisis occurs. The time to practice communication skills is in everyday situations. It is too late for preparation after a situation escalates. Every agency will face a difficult communication situation. This can represent an opportunity to strengthen public image and credibility, or it can add to an agency’s troubles. The key to a successful outcome is early recognition of warning signs and preparation for the opportunity to initiate dialogue. When participating in a public dialogue, be guided by three principles: truth, completeness and position. Truth is the only effective way to gain trust and reduce suspicion. Trust and credibility grow given honesty in answers, even those answers which are not pleasant news to the audience. Give the complete story to the reporter or group.
The background of an issue can sometimes be helpful to place events in historic perspective. Attempt to fully meet the information needs of the audience by the end of the meeting. Remember that every question asked is another chance to get a beneficial point across. Position answers by coupling straight Yes or No with solid reasons or evidence for the answer. Inform the audience why the action was taken or how and why the policy was established. Connect the dialogue to the answer so the explanation is not drowned out by the next question as well as guaranteeing that it is not easily edited in segments for short tape spots on the news.
Copyrighted CommuniQuest 2002