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Making Lemonade from Lemons: Communicating in Times of Crisis

We are accustomed to seeing the words pandemic, contagion and quarantine as titles of science fiction movies.  But the COVID-19 pandemic is not a movie.  It is real.  It is everywhere and it is changing daily life as we know it.  So, how can we make lemonade out of the lemons we’ve been given? It […]

We are accustomed to seeing the words pandemic, contagion and quarantine as titles of science fiction movies.  But the COVID-19 pandemic is not a movie.  It is real.  It is everywhere and it is changing daily life as we know it.  So, how can we make lemonade out of the lemons we’ve been given?

It starts with building trust through truthful communication at all levels and in all aspects of our lives.  Public health policy statements from elected officials and medical experts aside,  person-to-person conversations bear more weight during deeply unsettling times.

How do small business owners who cannot meet payroll convey bad news to employees?  How do we comfort an elderly neighbor wracked by fear and isolation?  How do husbands, wives, mothers and fathers talk to their loved ones about the necessary lifestyle changes and inevitable economic impact to come?

Basic crisis communication, the kind practiced by global corporations and institutions, offers the essentials steps that anyone can follow in oral and written exchanges:

1.  Be consistent.  Have a steady coherent message.  Repeat that message from 7 to 15 times, the recommended number for recall.

2.  Keep it simple.  Use words and phrases everyone can understand.  Some examples: pathogens = infectious agent, organism that causes disease, or bad bugs;  quarantine =  stay at home.

3.  Make it truthful.  State what you know.  Acknowledge what you don’t know.

4.  Listen and focus on your audience.  What is most important to them?  What do they need to hear from you?   

5.  Demonstrate empathy and compassion.  Be human.

While times of crisis are detrimental to our normal way of life, they can also lead to growth and learning.

Online support groups have sprung up to help isolated workers fight off loneliness.  Virtual meetings are improving our tech savvy.  Work teams are adopting more productivity and collaboration tools to keep projects afloat.

Our private lives may benefit from spending more time at home with family and strengthening bonds with friends through social media. Maybe you want to call a friend in New Rochelle, where the entire town was in lockdown. Have a cousin in Italy?—now is a great time for a FaceTime family reunion. 

Maybe we will develop better hygiene.  It seems that most adults were never taught to wash their hands and cover a sneeze when they were children.  Maybe our own children can teach us what we have failed to put into practice as adults. Maybe we can just appreciate what we have. 

Then there is the sobering realization that we are not alone.  We share the fears and vulnerabilities of 8 billion people who populate the Earth.  COVID-19 knows no boundaries, race, ethnicity or religion. 

We can make lemonade from lemons by exercising good communications in all our daily interactions. Communicate with truth, empathy, clarity and consistency.   Stay safe.  Be thankful for your health.  Always keep a Kleenex in your pocket. And don’t forget to stay human.

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