Denying Your Organization’s Issues Can Lead to Crisis

That look I give communicators who try to pretend everything's OK when it's not, and have a community meeting or media event, thinking it'll be great.

That look I give communicators who try to pretend everything’s OK when it’s not, and have a community meeting or media event, thinking it’ll be great.

Paul wrote about the difference between issues and emergencies in one part of our Crisis Comms 101 series, and he defined issues because they’re, “… a ‘base element’ (which are) the fertile ground from which crises grow.”

If your organization has unresolved issues that are the source of concern, confusion or anger amongst your stakeholders, one of the worst things you can do is simply deny them and hope they’ll go away. They won’t. If you try to resume “business as usual,” without addressing concerns, you’re setting your organization up for failure – or worse, a crisis.

Here’s one way in which organizations or individuals try to go back to normal operations, while attempting to sweep their problems under the rug: holding events unrelated to the ongoing issues, to which they’ve invited stakeholders who are concerned about those issues.

I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t see this happen often. If your goal is to ignore lingering organizational issues while trying to communicate about something else, you are probably in a state of denial. If your plan is to hold an event and be prepared to answer questions about the issues when (not if) they arise, you’re on the right-ish track. If you take care of your organization’s issues before they get to the emergency or crisis phase (and then resume normal operations), your Jedi training is complete!

Here’s what it can look like when you decide to go with the first of the three aforementioned plans (not for nothing, I’ve had to persuade leadership away from this route in a few instances):


What to do if you have to hold an unrelated public and/or media event and you have lingering issues that are causing concern, confusion or anger from stakeholders? There are two good options:

  • Address your issues first – and separately – until your stakeholders have all their questions answered and concerns addressed. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to fix a problem that is causing the concern (but, that would be a good thing) – it can mean that people know you’re working actively to mitigate the source of the issue and that they understand that you care about their concerns.
  • Hold your unrelated event, but take time during it to clearly address the lingering issues. Do this at the beginning of the event, because chances are that’s what is on people’s minds most when they show up (as in the news clip above). Preparing spokespeople thoroughly before the event for every question that could be posed is vital (the so-called “murder board” before talking about potentially contentious topics).

If people are affected by the work you and your organization do, a little empathy can go a long way, through good times and bad. During the bad times, put yourself in your stakeholders’ shoes and ask yourself, “What would I need to hear and know to believe that an issue was being addressed, that the source of it was going to be mitigated and that the people in charge of both these things cared about me?” Denying the issues is never a good choice, for anyone.

Talk to me, Goose.

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