How Public Officials Can Communicate in a Crisis

The ability to communicate in a crisis efficiently is an essential attribute that public officials must have. Nobody wants to deal with a crisis, but unfortunately, they are common. People often expect a response from their government representatives, whether it’s an act of violence or a public scandal. For public officials tasked with speaking out after an incident, achieving the right tone and providing the reassurance that the public seeks can be challenging. The wrong words may covey insincerity, or they may even create a liability.

Communication is Essential

Public officials can learn to communicate in a crisis by following these four essential tips.

Maintain Transparency When Appropriate

One of the biggest questions that emerge after a crisis is “what happened?” Citizens want to know precisely what occurred, how it occurred, and why it occurred. Public officials responding to the crisis can meet their constituents’ expectations by maintaining a policy of transparency. This transparency must have boundaries so that sensitive information does not get out.

Do Not Expose Any Potential Liabilities

When a public official responds to a crisis, there is also significant potential for the exposure of liabilities. If a crisis occurs due to a government department’s error, this admission can quickly trigger an onslaught of attention that won’t solve the problem. For this reason, an official must be careful about divulging details, and they must not expose any liabilities that could have consequences for other officials or departments.

Be Clear, Concise, and Professional

The trauma that immediately follows a crisis can make staying focused challenging. For public officials responding to the event, though, they must be clear and concise in their statements. Long-winded ramblings or gratuitously sentimental prose have no place in an official statement. An official must master the ability to speak clearly and maintain a professional yet empathetic tone throughout their speech. It can provide the public with the reassurance they need without exposing any information which may be privileged.

Acknowledge the Impact of the Event

A crisis event will have an impact that lasts long after an official’s speech. If people suffered injuries or anyone died, it’s the speaker who must acknowledge these tragedies in a sincere tone. They must avoid the “thoughts and prayers” pitfall, and it’s equally important that they not overstate the impact. It is especially true if the crisis did not involve physical harm, abuse, or violence. The key is acknowledging any impact on the public associated with the event without exaggerating its gravity.

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