Crisis communication 101

Now is the time to plan your communication strategy for a future emergency, argues Ellen de Graffenreid in Inside Higher Ed.

De Graffenreid is the director of communications at the Margolis Center for Health Policy at Duke University and writes about the issues facing college presidents, particularly as they relate to strategic communication with the institutions they serve.

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No one wants to feel like they have to be in permanent crisis-management mode, de Graffenreid writes. But, she argues, it can be helpful to take a proactive approach to planning how you'll communicate with your staff in the event of a crisis. She points out that crises are inevitable on most campuses, so it pays to get ahead of the next one. De Graffenreid recommends three strategies for doing this.

1: Determine if it's actually a crisis

Sometimes, a problem can be escalated unnecessarily, de Graffenreid writes. For example, you may have some staff members see something in the news about your institution and feel upset. This might temporarily hurt their productivity, but that doesn't mean it's a crisis, she writes.

Instead, de Graffenreid recommends simply trying to keep your staff focused on the matters at hand. And most importantly, try to listen to what they have to say and calm their fears by acknowledging certain outcomes without making them seem immediate. De Graffenreid argues this will help them feel that their opinions matter and worry less about potential disasters.

2: Share information when you can

It's not a good idea to shield your subordinates entirely from major problems happening on campus, de Graffenreid writes. It simply won't work. But what you can do, she writes, is be strategic about how much information you disclose about the issue. She recommends focusing on the facts that are publicly known and to include structural limitations, such as compliance rules, that provide important context. She also warns leaders not to speculate.

Doing these things will prevent gossip from spreading, de Graffenreid writes. She also argues will also make you appear honest and forthcoming, which can strengthen the bond you have with your team.

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3: Be thankful

People who stayed up all night dealing with a crisis or worked for two days straight on some major announcement are likely to feel underappreciated if no one expresses gratitude for their work, de Graffenreid writes. So put simply: thank them for their work. Maybe even take it a step further by bringing them some flowers or buying them a cup of coffee, she adds (de Graffenreid, Inside Higher Ed, 7/20). 

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