A crisis in your world puts you in the spotlight. You know that you need to keep your wits about you, get help, and make difficult decisions under pressure. You appreciate how important it is to stay visible to your allies so that they see you are not beaten down, distressed, or depressed by the upheaval in your life. Let’s talk about what you want to say to friends, acquaintances, and others about how you’re responding to what you’re going through. You must send a message that you are standing tall despite your disaster.
Imagine you learn that a friend is in trouble. At the end of a conversation with your friend, you will evaluate how he or she is bearing up. Is your friend taking charge of the situation/crisis and does she or he have a plan to improve it and move on? As we’ve discussed, we are more likely to help people who are helping themselves—by being calm, thoughtful, and active.
More importantly, are you sending that message—be calm, thoughtful, and active—to yourself when you are in trouble?
We can learn how to craft messages by observing how reporters approach a “hot” story. Mentally, if not literally, they divide a page in two when they conduct interviews for a story. The left-hand side of the page includes comments from knowledgeable sources about the challenge, problem, scandal, defeat, or disappointment that a business, athlete, politician, or entertainer faces. The right-hand half of the page is reserved for the response of the company or individual under attack.
Companies in crisis work with their legal and public relations advisors to craft messages for the “right side of the page” that are truthful, reassuring, and easy for everyone from the media to employees to remember and repeat. The questions the public wants answered in any crisis are these: “What happened?” “Why?” “Who is to blame?” and “What are you doing about it?”
Let’s see how this approach applies in our lives. If you lose your job, think how your relatives, friends, allies, and others will divide the page in thinking about you. The left-hand side of the page may end up with a series of “mixed” bullet points, such as “hope she’s doing okay”; “he got laid off”; “she’s a loser”; “he’s really screwed”; “wow, isn’t that too bad.” Your job is to tilt perceptions in your favor by filling in the empty right-hand half of the page in a way that reassures and educates your supporters and potential allies that you are standing tall. Think about some upbeat messages it would make sense to send them: “I’m doing fine,” “Good time to reinvent myself,” “This is giving me a chance to regroup.”
So let’s go ahead and pretend you have lost your job. What messages do you want to send now? How many messages do you want to send? How long should those messages be? Companies in crisis have adopted certain ground rules for developing messages that have stood the test of time.
- First, your messages should follow the “3-Ss” rule: short, simple, and strong.
- Second, provide no more than three messages.
- Third, each message should contain no more than nine words.
Imagine you run into a friend at the grocery store who says quietly, “Sorry to hear you lost your job.” What do you say? What is your elevator pitch (meaning what would you say to him in an elevator ride of about thirty seconds)? What are the sound bites you want to send? What do you want this person’s takeaway to be about you and your situation? When we react emotionally, without a strategy, we can fall into complainer/loser mode and tell our friend: “It’s really unfair. My boss hated me. Don’t know what I’m going to do now.” Even a nonchalant response such as, “No worries; it’ll be fine,” can be counterproductive by suggesting that you’re unrealistic or uninterested in help.
Message One: “Thanks—I really appreciate your interest.” This message shows you are taking the situation in stride and are thinking about people other than yourself. You should try to avoid answering the unspoken “Why did it happen?” and “Who’s to blame?” questions; doing so will probably end the discussion in a bad place. Instead, you want to focus the conversation on your future.
Message Two: “I’ve made some networking calls already.” This message says that you are taking charge, that you’re upbeat and not scared.
Message Three: “I’d like your help in expanding my search.” This request shows confidence and a focus on getting a new job. The open-ended nature of your request will likely spark a question from your friend, which you can answer more specifically and should produce assistance.
When companies face a crisis, they tend to get fixated on what they’ll say to the media. I tell them to think “do” before “say,” meaning that figuring out what to do matters more and will furnish what to say. That’s true for you as well when trouble strikes. Follow your plan, figure out what to do, and then develop short, simple, and strong messages that support your plan and image of standing tall.
Adapted article with permission from “The Instant Survivor: Right Ways to Respond When Things Go Wrong” by Jim Moorhead.
About the author: Jim Moorhead is America’s crisis advisor and has spent the past three decades helping numerous corporations and individuals overcome business, professional and personal crises. Moorhead is a sought-after expert, appearing on CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, Fox News Channel, Fox Business News and Court T.V.