Tuesday, May 21st, 2013
Tornados Rip Oklahoma: Your Crisis Communication Role
This weekend I had the pleasure of attending a conference in San Diego for more than 400 professional writers and speakers. I went to share a few nuggets from my speaking business and pick up a few new tricks from my colleagues in the business. I had no idea a crisis would hit during the event to inspire my current blog post.
I had just shared with the breakout group what Lothery & Associates does to help entrepreneurs and other businesses understand and or execute the right social media strategy to maximize it for their own customer development and relationships. Ten people came up to me after the class to pass me their business cards for future conversations. One after the other I shared some ideas on how to use Twitter, their blogs, and YouTube. The seventh woman to share her needs was calm, professional and very clear on what she needed. She passed me her card and said she would like to outsource her social media to me. I took her card to connect her face, with her name and business, and saw at the bottom she was from a town in Oklahoma.
I stopped, looked up, gently grabbed her hand, and asked how her family and friends were at home. I had never heard of the town, nor did I know if it was even close to the Tornado ravaged Moore, Oklahoma. I had hoped she was going to say it was far away, because, after all, she was fully composed and didn’t seem like she was in shock or devastation. She gave me a small painful smile and said, “thank you for asking. My house is half gone, but everyone is safe and ok.” The rest of the circle around us, began to ask questions about the damage, her business, and her family. She was powerless from San Diego, so she said she would figure everything out when she got home.
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) May 21, 2013
I was moved by her strength, composure and ability to focus on the real priority. “Everyone is safe and ok.” I thought about what the rest of us say to people facing enormous pain, struggle and tragedy. There really isn’t a single “right thing” to say, but there are some things to remember when you meet someone dealing with such heavy news. We all see the news anchors and public officials offer their “hearts and prayers” to those in dire circumstances, but there are other things to say and do, if you actually know someone personally:
- Listen. If a tornado (or other crisis) wipes out a person’s keepsakes, heirlooms, or simply their material possessions, they may need to unload their sadness, sense of loss, and anger. Just listen. You don’t need to offer solutions, a place in your home, though that would be nice if you could afford it. Sometimes a sympathetic ear is the right medicine.
- Offer to Communicate on their Behalf: Do they need for you to call people to let loved ones know they’re OK?
- Offer to be a Backup: Do they have kids? Can you watch their kids while they speak with adjusters, doctors, etc.
- Communicate with Your Family: Children and the elderly often deal with devastating loss than adults between 25-60 years old. Children may not understand the logistics of how a house can be there today, and gone tomorrow. They may not understand why their toys are destroyed or missing, or why they can’t go out and play like they did before, because conditions may not be safe yet. Seniors have worked their entire lives to save keepsakes, valuables, or a comfortable retirement can’t imagine starting over, in any capacity. They imagine their later years as a time for reflection and reliving memories, not figuring out how to put pieces back together or build new ones.
- Be Aware: Pay attention to news coverage. Is there a need being discussed? Do they need blood donations, clothes, toys, beds, water, power, transportation? If you can afford to assist with what your community, your investment will come back to you, in your time of need.
- Be Honest: It’s ok not to know what to say. If you don’t have a lot of words, but you do have great empathy, it’s ok to say, “I can’t imagine what you’re feeling, but please know I’m here for you if you need an ear to bend or a shoulder to lean on.” Better to be speechless than make up a flip statement that sounds insincere.
- Be Flexible: If you have an employee who was affected by this storm, now is not the time to nitpick on “hours,” “comp time,” and whether someone has enough “vacation time” available to handle their recovery process. Unless your company is going to fold by their absence, a little grace to let them find something to hold onto, or some hope for rebuilding their lives will return to you with greater loyalty, performance, and gratitude.
If you know someone in Oklahoma affected by this merciless tornado storm my heart is with you, and may God (whatever your faith) watch over you and your loved ones to help you through this incredible time. May the rebuilding process strengthen the bond you have with your community, as it is essential for everyone to pull together so they may pull out of the destruction.
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