Aug 23

Lingering pandemic requires thoughtful approach to communications

“Here we go again” is something we’ve heard – or even murmured ourselves – over the past several weeks as COVID-19 cases have soared and mask mandates have returned.

Just when we thought life was getting back on track – have stopped using the term “normal” thanks to my friend and colleague, Brian – variants and raised risk levels are reminding us the pandemic is far from over. With COVID-19 fatigue at a seemingly all-time high, here are some tips to remember as you’re communicating with your stakeholders:

Be mindful of diverse opinions

I don’t have to tell you the pandemic has been polarizing from a political, parent and professional standpoint. From shouting matches in our halls of legislation to protests outside schools to grievances in workplaces, emotions are running high and opinions on COVID-19, the vaccine and face coverings are quite varied.

As you communicate with your stakeholders about the pandemic and your organization’s response to it, keep this emotionally charged landscape in mind and use language that eases anxiety and division – and shows you care. For example:

  • We care about you and your health and safety.
  • We’re weary of this, too.
  • Together with you, we’re committed to serving our community/customers/clients and carrying out our mission every day.

Focusing on your organization and your stakeholders vs. the political issue du jour is the best way to navigate and respect opinions and emotions without entering the fray.

Be clear about your response

Being thoughtful of varying opinions doesn’t mean you can’t be firm in your response to COVID-19. Whether you’re reinstating a mask mandate or requiring the vaccine for employees, it’s important to be clear about your actions and expectations.

If it’s a requirement, call it that – don’t call it a guideline or recommendation. We’ve seen from the start of the pandemic how vague and ambiguous messaging serves no one, only OR instead creating confusion and division.

It’s also important for you to explain the why of your actions. Simply mandating something without an explanation breeds distrust and division. And sure, while you won’t win over the hearts and minds of all your stakeholders with an explanation, you will demonstrate transparency, compassion and concern – which are tough to argue with no matter what side you’re on.

At the end of the day, your stakeholders just want you to be honest and transparent about what’s happening at your organization.

Be ready for criticism

The pandemic has taught us that no one is immune to criticism – even the most beloved organizations within our communities. The old “thick skin” adage is more important than ever as we navigate this ever-evolving landscape and make decisions that are best for ourselves, our loved ones and our organization.

Having solid messaging around your decisions, actions and expectations for stakeholders is the best defense against criticism. It’s also critically important to tailor your messaging to each of your audiences – the tone, content and purpose of the message for employees likely will be different than what you use for clients.

However, regardless of the audience, make sure messaging always points back to your organization’s key messages, mission and vision. This helps you keep the focus on the good that your organization does and minimizes the negative impact of criticism on your brand, stakeholder morale and bottom line.

Be a safe space

Most of us aren’t public health experts – so don’t try to be one. It may feel like your stakeholders expect you to have all the answers when it comes to COVID-19, but they really don’t. They just want to feel like they can reach out with questions and concerns in a nonjudgmental and nonthreatening space.

Make sure your communications offer a safe space for stakeholders on all sides of the pandemic. Again, use messaging that puts people over politics and points back to your guiding principles.

Most importantly, remember: We’re all navigating new waters together – and wanting life to get back on track.

One thought on “Lingering pandemic requires thoughtful approach to communications”

  1. Tennille Marie Dobbs says:

    This is a refreshing approach – as a nurse, thank you. We are beaten down and exhausted. This time last year I was declared a “hero” – but only yesterday was told to “sober up and stop drinking the cool-aide” and being physically pushed aside in a grocery store for wearing a mask. I’m beginning to think the bigger concern is no longer a pandemic.

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