Responding to Crisis from the Heart and Head

A crisis demands a response with appropriate emotion and authentic action. You need to respond from both the heart and the head.

When facing a crisis, should you respond with your head or your heart? A PR colleague argues for both, and with good reason.

“A stiff response or an overly emotional response can erode, not build, trust…”

A stiff response or an overly emotional response can erode, not build, trust — the critical measure of success in crisis communication. An effective response must combine a caring reaction with a rational set of actions.

Joan Gladstone, who gives strategic communications counsel to clients from her San Diego base, says people affected by a crisis want more than timely, transparent information. They want to know you care. And they want to know you are doing everything possible to end the crisis and prevent it from recurring. They want assurances you are treating the victims with respect.

This requires a response from both the heart and the head.

Empathy can go a long way toward establishing a bridge between the crisis response messenger and the people paying attention. The absence of empathy sends an even louder message. Failing to express sympathy or remorse can be seen as uncaring, disregard or indifference. A simple phone call to victims or their family members can speak volumes.

When the leader of an organization makes a crisis personal by his or her words and gestures, it conveys a clear signal to everyone involved in the response to embrace the same imperative. Responders go the extra mile, making the extra effort.

Good intentions won’t carry the day all by themselves. They need to be carried out in concrete actions. The leak needs to be stopped and the cause identified and fixed. The accounts hacked need to be contacted, informed and given credible options. The inappropriate behavior must be disciplined and procedures imposed to stop it from occurring again.

In a crisis, what you say and how you say it are important. But what you do is even more important.

Most important of all, you need reassuring words and responsible deeds to win confidence and put a problem in the rear-view mirror. You need a response from your heart and your head.