It isn’t hard to locate a story about a company who not only made a mistake, but caved to the public’s outrage by making a premature statement. Companies face what’s considered a PR nightmare in the blink of an eye. You can plan for the worst, but you cannot plan for everything, nor always understand the correct way to deal with the issue.
Today we have cell phones taking video whether we ask them to or not. (There are copyright issues involved, but that’s a story for another time). The challenge with such videos is they cannot capture all that’s involved. You don’t hear or see what triggered the event; you cannot always hear all the conversations; and the truth is, neither the camera nor the amateur videographer can tell you the entire story. The person capturing the scene could never tell you the person’s motive or heart condition because no human can do that.
The result is a one-sided message that often inflames anger.
You now have a large part of the population who is outraged at a piece of an event they saw and perceived to be an injustice. The company would like to collect all the facts before responding, but this outraged population and the media pushes them to pump out something before riots ensue.
Yet, there is danger in spewing information before you’ve had a chance to collect all the facts. At the very least, you – the company – have to crawl back to the population with one updated statement after another that admits you were wrong the first few times and you’re working to fix the problem.
At the worst, each statement you make only compounds the issue and you cause riots that could have been prevented had you been patient.
Whether you’re dealing with a major event or you have some disagreements among colleagues, the tips that follow can help you come to a resolution.
The first thing that’s needed, and probably the hardest, is to gain control of the emotional aspect of the event. When two people or groups are convinced they are right and dig their heels in the ground, no one wins the argument. If emotions aren’t reigned in, someone will either get hurt or worse.
Step back. If emotions are running high, even happy ones, there is a danger in making an emotional decision. You might be justified in how you feel, but remember that the other party feels that way too. Take a moment, or a few days if necessary, to allow your emotions to simmer.
Get the facts
You’ve heard it before: “just the facts, ma’am.” Talk to the ones involved. Everyone will have a different viewpoint of the matter. Your job is to collect all the perspectives to create a solid picture. Opinions and ideas are okay and will be freely expressed by others, but you want to make sure you’re not swayed by these. Gather all your facts – who is involved, what took place, where it happened, etc. Understand that the “why” it happened is not factual, it’s a matter of opinion. However, you still want to be clear on the why.
Talk to experts
Talk to experts or others who have dealt with similar situations. What did they do? What worked, what didn’t? As you talk to those involved with the situation, how would they have done things differently if they were allowed a “do-over”?
Know your pros and cons
As you piece the information together, understand your pros and cons to releasing that information. Do you have all the facts possible? Are you being premature in releasing said information? What are the advantages and disadvantages to not revealing certain facts? Try to ascertain the possibilities of backlash if you hide pieces of your facts.
Again, this is why it’s important to have as many sides of the story as possible to cover all your loose ends. Because the media wants to be the “first” to get out the story, it is never accurate and the story is never wholly covered. But that is the media, not your company. You won’t be able to do follow up stories. If you get it wrong from the outset, at least according to your audience, you don’t get a do-over.
Build strength with silence
Many people might argue this point, but they are the same ones who demand an answer to an emotional response. Granted, if you’re faced with a difficult situation or you’re dealing with a tense atmosphere in the office with your co-worker, you don’t want to sit for months on the issue. But you also don’t want people to think they can pull the strings on you or your company.
When tensions are high, it is best to back away (as mentioned above). People will cool with a little time. In some cases it’s a good idea to let them know that yes, you’ve heard the outcry and you’re collecting facts. You will release a statement (or have a conversation) when all the information is in and you’ve made a decision.
The media and others continue to throw around the word “transparency” as if that will help the situation. No one and no company is transparent. It’s impossible. Instead, what you’re doing is gaining strength on the situation so that you can renew the trust that has been shaky. When you have all your facts and are able to make a decision based on the knowledge you have, and you reveal this to whomever you need to, you show that you are strong.
Admit your mistake
This happens to everyone. You collect your facts and you realize you were the one who was wrong. Admit it. It’s difficult to stand before someone with your tail between your legs, but it’s less painful to do that than run from the truth the rest of your life.
Make sure your apology is sincere. Don’t try to twist it with: “I’m sorry others were hurt by this.” That’s throwing the apology in a circle. A sincere apology is: “I’m sorry I hurt you.”
But as you admit your grave error, explain what you intend to do to fix it. That’s what people care about. They appreciate the apology but even more so, they value what you intend to do about the problem and how you’ll avoid it in the future.
Do the above and you will regain (or continue to earn) the trust you need for your organization.
For more information on communicating with your co-worker, check out this article: When tensions build at work – 5 steps you can take to communicate with your co-worker
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