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By virtue of the job, PR professionals are familiar with high-stress environments and, generally speaking, comfortable with think-on-your-feet situations. Crisis and conflict exist for every company, organization or entity; no one is immune to it.
Whether a disaster impacts your company or an organizational issue disrupts your workplace’s ability to function as it should, well-mapped-out communication strategies should be structured to embrace the nuances of internal and external audiences.
To be the very best crisis management professional, you must never stop learning — about your industry, best practices, case studies and the ever-evolving world around you. By regularly engaging in professional development, hands-on workshops, continuing education and certificate programs, you stay ahead of the curve (and quite possibly a potential crisis).
Often, communication professionals think first about the message as it would play out in the press, on social media or in a soundbite, but a sometimes-forgotten audience is the employees, staffers and frontline workers who also have to work within an organization facing a crisis.
Whether you are looking to kick-start a career in crisis communications or want to amplify your current role, here are four key communication elements that are vital when working with an organization’s internal audience during times of crisis and/or conflict.
1. Engage in active listening. Before an organization can begin to brainstorm solutions for a conflict or crisis, they must understand the issue and its impact. Go beyond examining the verbal message but also take into account a process of active listening and analyzing nonverbal communication of those within the walls of the organization.We often receive messages while simultaneously preparing a response.
This action limits the receiver’s ability to truly engage the speaker and identify the underling meaning in their message. Active listening provides the opportunity to engage in the message being presented and validate the speaker’s thoughts and positions, ultimately building trust.
2. Read non-verbal cues. Being able to read nonverbal signals is vital in de-escalating conflict. Body language provides insight into the true meaning and intent of the message as well as an immediate assessment of the receiver’s reaction. If the employee is delivering a message with negative body language, then the receiver can use active listening to unpack the message and reassure the speaker that they are being heard.
3. Participate in reflective dialogue. Managing the multiple perspectives of group members is a challenge under normal circumstances; adding in the element of conflict, can create tension. In the process of managing or resolving conflict, stakeholders must look at the causes that led to the crisis or conflict to ensure that procedures are put in place to avoid reoccurrence of the issue.
Through reflective dialogue, blame is transformed creating a less defensive and more solution-oriented situation. Once team members are aware of the positive climate, they can focus on collaborating and creating shared common goals that can increase organizational success.
4. Examine solutions together. Conflict, regardless of its root cause, provides individuals with the opportunity to examine solutions that promote organizational innovation. By reframing conflict in a more productive view, individuals will move from the negative stigma of conflict to embrace the possibilities that can emerge when striving to resolve conflict.
Integrating solutions to emerge from the organizational conflict or crisis requires a strategic plan that identifies the key players and the internal and external modes of communication that are essential to the effectiveness of the conflict’s resolution. Being able to strategically deliver the plan will decrease an organization’s stress that is often times associated with conflict, crisis and change.
Your constant learning and ability to spot new trends, identify risks early on and establish new communication opportunities will give you the ability to thrive as a crisis communication professional and bring out the best in your team during a crisis.
Aileen Izquierdo is director of the School of Communication at Florida International University (FIU). An associate teaching professor, Izquierdo also serves as faculty program director for FIU’s top-ranked Global Strategic Communications (GSC) graduate program. Izquierdo, a dedicated PRSA member, is a communications professional with more than 20 years of strategic communications, branding and crisis communications experience.
Heather Radi-Bermudez, APR, is an associate teaching professor in the School of Communication at Florida International University (FIU), teaching in its top-ranked Global Strategic Communications master’s program. Beyond FIU, she is a dedicated PRSA member. She is a past president of the PRSA Miami Chapter, where she still serves on the APR and Ethics committees. She regularly speaks on topics related to crisis communications, storytelling and ethics for new pros at PRSA and PRSSA conferences around the country.
[Illustration credit: who is danny]