Managing change during the COVID-19 pandemic is like trying to drink water out of 15 different firehoses turned on full-blast and constantly moving. Or so it seems.
As much as we try to communicate with our teams expeditiously, the updates we're providing can become obsolete before people even have a chance to digest the previous plan. The only thing that's truly "easy" right now is the ability to understand why people are feeling overwhelmed.
In uncertain times, meaningful communication is critical. Leadership is meaningful communication.
Here are three things to help you lead using communication that's meaningful to you, your organization, and helpful to the people you serve.
1. Before Communicating: Remember the Recipient
Before you send any message, consider what the intended audience also needs to hear. The message never matters more than the people receiving it. Communication during challenging times needs to be much more than conveying information and/or expectations.
For example, before sharing information with your school community or staff, take time to listen to what they're needing most. What's unclear? What's frustrating? What are they worried about? What hasn't been said yet that they really need to hear from you on? Let these conversations help inform the content and tone of your next communication.
2. During Communication: Practice Clarity Combined with Empathy
Brene' Brown has said, "Clear is kind...unclear is unkind" and I think I understand what she meant. However, clarity alone will not guarantee communication is helpful or meaningful. Clarity coupled with empathy fuels meaningful change; one without the other can stall progress, create confusion, and kill culture.
For example, if you need to articulate a new process to families or convey expectations to your team on how to navigate changes brought on by COVID-19, be clear while also understanding and acknowledging what will be hard. Be clear while also showing genuine care, flexibility, and offering support whenever possible.
3. After Communication: Circle Back
Email and video messages do not need to be one-way communication. In fact, they probably shouldn't be. Check with your team or community after sending a communication to see what was helpful and what was not. No matter how hard we try, no communication can be perfect.
For example, ask people what they heard you say. Was it helpful? Was it clear? Did it contradict something they previously heard, and what might be a helpful follow-up? And if you do send a communication that misses the mark for any reason...do your best to acknowledge this and fix it.
If I'm being completely honest, stressful situations, time-constraints, and rapid change impact our ability to send helpful communications. And these things also impact people's ability to assume positive intent when they are listening to us (or reading/watching a communication). This is why intentionality and the three things above are so important.
In this rapidly changing environment, our ability to communicate in a helpful and meaningful way will be relied upon more than ever before. Communicating alone is not enough because all communication is not created equal.