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Handling Your Employees’ Fears about the Coronavirus

When it comes to effective communication, it’s not always what you say, but how you say it.

The coronavirus is a topic on all of our minds, and as the infection spreads, people are growing more concerned. To make matters worse, the alarming rumors seem to be spreading faster than the coronavirus itself. 

To alleviate employee stress, managers need to focus on both the “what” and “how” they communicate to their staff. 

Since the news and media updates are playing on our worst fears, the “what” they communicate is incredibly important. Leaders need to provide factual updates with regards to the infection control and symptoms, and they also need to be clear with company policy regarding remote work and circumstances in which employees might be excluded from or allowed to return to the workplace. 

Along with disseminating facts, managers will be on the frontlines to alleviate their employees’ fear and anxiety. When someone is upset or fearful, there are two key techniques they need to utilize: “acknowledging” and “validating.” These techniques can help diffuse some of the emotional intensity in a difficult and scary situation.

Two Communication Techniques to Effectively Handle Employees’ Feelings and Fears

Acknowledging 

When an employee voices their concerns or fears, it’s helpful for a manager to communicate back to the employee that they have really understood what he or she has been saying.

Here’s why it works: effective acknowledging creates a feeling that the speaker has been understood. In fact, when you’ve finished explaining, ask if you got it right. Keep going until it completely resonates. Then ask, “Is there more?” The key measure of success is that the speaker feels heard and understood.

Here are several examples of acknowledging statements:

  • “What you’re saying is…” 
  • “I’m hearing you say…”
  • “In other words, …”

Validating

A manager should communicate to the employee that it is okay to feel the way they do. When you validate someone’s feelings, you’re being non-judgmental. 

Keep in mind, validating is not about creating your own similar set of feelings so you can connect. In fact, doing so becomes invalidating and shifts the attention from the speaker to you.  For example, avoid saying “I know how you feel.” Remember, you really don’t have any idea how the other person feels because you do not have the same sensitivities, background and life experiences.

A manager doesn’t need to necessarily agree with the employee but can empathize and frame it in a certain way. For instance, “given the circumstances and the employee’s personal history, it is quite understandable that they would feel that way.”

By acknowledging and validating employees’ feelings, a manager has a better chance to diminish understandable distractions that comes from worrying about the coronavirus.

Here are some examples of validating statements a manager can say:

  • “You have every right to feel that way because…”
  • “That’s perfectly normal. It can be very upsetting when something like that happens.”
  • “Based on your values (or your belief system or the way you saw that) no wonder you feel the way you do.”

Being Prepared is More than Half the Battle

To protect employees, customers, and businesses during a global health emergency, managers need to have a plan of action. Along with implementing proper health regulations, they need to be trained in the best communication practices for crisis management. 

When it comes to effective communication, it’s not always what you say, but how you say it.

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