Today I've had the pleasure of participating in Leadership North Carolina's Annual Forum, themed A Bridge to Action. We've spent the morning learning how to take action and build bridges for the betterment of North Carolina. How we can best engage with one another to create intentional bridges of action. It's been an inspiring morning. While I was expecting to learn about better engaging my community, I did not expect to have a lightbulb moment around crisis communications.
I've spent close to 30 years handling a wide variety of crises, and I've written multiple crisis plans for companies and organizations, both large and small. But one word, and the purposeful intent it implies, has been missing.
The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. The ability to see others' perspectives from their perspectives.
Crisis plans are filled with the steps we will take when a crisis happens. Whom we will communicate with, how we will communicate with them, structures to create and disseminate that information, etc. But how many of those plans include stepping into the shoes of our audiences to see what they may be feeling? We assume we know what they may think - that's the basis for a lot of our planning, but what will we do to proactively find out if our assumptions are accurate, to listen, and to respond to their feelings?
So what can we do? How can we incorporate empathy into our crisis planning?
In a perfect world, we would already be creating a culture of empathy and understanding in our organizations, and so an empathetic approach would be inherent in everything we do.
But we don't live in a perfect world. And a crisis could hit your organization today.
Go through your plan and look for opportunities to bring empathy. Have you created a mechanism to listen to and engage each of your audiences throughout your response?
Look at your plan - your talking points, your spokesperson(s), your messaging - through the lens of empathy. Consider potential inequities, access and other issues that may change perceptions.
Engage your audiences now, before a crisis happens. Build those bridges, have discussions about your plans, listen to feedback and make changes.
If nothing else, today, add Empathy to your list of guiding principles. It should live next to Truth, Accuracy, and the other mandates of your plan. Keep it top of mind.
Your crisis plan should be a living document, and now is the perfect time to incorporate empathy into your planning.