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When Things Go Wrong, Communicate

Marion Grobb Finkelstein - Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Think about the last time something went wrong in your life and how communication played a role.

Have you ever been working away at a project and things beyond your control begin to go awry? Your client, colleague, employee or boss is left in the lurch and his or her expectations are not being met. Yikes! When actions fall short of expectations, that can really hurt a relationship. The key to pulling this situation out of its downward spiral is communication.

I had a taste of that a few years back when I was flying from Toronto to Ottawa with Porter Airlines, a small commuter outfit. This is a great, friendly airline with personable staff members who are very service-oriented. This proved true on this day in question.

After traveling from the United States and getting only a couple hours of sleep, I was anxious to complete the last leg of my journey and get home. You can imagine my disappointment when the announcement came over the speakers that my flight was delayed – again. Two delays in as many hours. Was I disappointed? Yes. Was I angry? No.

Why wasn't I upset at this string of delays, you ask? There was one thing that made the difference in my reaction -- communication. Instead of leaving us in the dark wondering what was happening, Porter Airlines consistently and promptly told us about the delays as soon as they knew them. They announced that the flight was late and this was followed by frequent updates on the situation.

COMMUNICATION TIP: Bad times require good communications.

OK, so maybe Porter’s free cappuccinos, buttery shortbreads and courtesy newspapers took the edge off what could have been an upsetting circumstance (I love those cookies!). It was, however, Porter's masterful updating and communication that made an otherwise angering moment, pretty tolerable. Once I understood and felt in the proverbial loop, I could plan accordingly. I settled myself in at one of their courtesy WiFi computers and got a bunch of work done. Knowing the status, timelines and what to expect made all the difference... even when those variables changed.

A similar incident happened in another leg of my journey with Jet Blue -- another example of good communication when things don't go exactly as expected. We were flying through a rough patch and the plane pitched. Just then, the chirp of the pilot’s bell chimed and was followed by the pilot announcing what was happening. He explained that the turbulence was normal and how long it would last. It was his tone, his air of control, his measured pace that told us as much as his words did, that everything would be alright. With this communication, he allayed our concerns, let us know he was in charge, and demonstrated that he understood our concern and need-to-know what was happening before we even felt compelled to ask.

Does your boss keep you informed when your organization hits a bumpy spell? Do you let your colleagues, clients, employees and boss know what's happening and what you're doing to control it when things go a little off track? Do you allay concerns and proactively provide reassuring information before people feel compelled to ask? If not, consider the other person's perspective and provide a brief "it'll be OK, and why" update.They will appreciate it, and you for doing it.

I’m reminded of the stock market crash over the past few years. My mother’s financial adviser proactively provided market summaries and explanations to all his clients, quelling their queries much more so than had he remained silent. It didn’t change the uncertainty of the market. It didn't change the situation and plummeting stock values. What it did do, however, was assure his clients that he was engaged and aware of their concerns. He validated his clients by responding by filling the black void with information.

For anyone who has lived through organizational restructuring (and who hasn’t?), you will know how important communication is to the employee team and all stakeholders. A Director General from a large government department recently confided in me that he was discouraged about a lack of communication plans being developed to advise employees of imminent departmental changes. He felt his concerns fell upon deaf ears. Another agency I know has been struggling with transformation without communication. It seems the “Chief of Transformation” doesn’t think letting employees in on the situation is worth the effort. Dead wrong.

Here's the lesson: during times of great upheaval, whether due to external forces or initiated by the organization itself, it's time to communicate to those being affected. A “no surprises” philosophy is a productive and compassionate one. Fill the void with information because otherwise, it will be filled with fear and rumors.

When Porter Air was delayed, it wasn’t those cute little pillbox hats that I admired (though they are admitted unbelievably cute) – it was the communication. It made a difference, and if you communicate when it's critical, especially when things go bad, you'll make a good difference too.

PS: Want communication tips for your NEXT JOB INTERVIEW? Get ready to communicate "The Best You at a Job Interview".

REGISTER TODAY for the March 15, 2012 webinar

Until next time, here's to ...
Better communication, Better business, Better life,
Marion Grobb Finkelstein
Keynote Speaker / Corporate Trainer / Author

© 2012 Marion Grobb Finkelstein
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