Spend more than two decades in crisis communications, and it’s easy to understand why friends ask what a public figure should do about the dumpster fire of the moment. Welcome to a world where logic and good choices battle emotion and absurdity with increasing frequency.
Every crisis has its peculiarities, and it can be tough to discern what’s happening behind the scenes. But for the curious, there are a few ways you can gain a better sense of the machinations at work, and what may be around the corner:
1. Be cautious of anyone misrepresenting conjecture as fact...and even fact as fact. There are typically many unknowns when a crisis breaks. Trying to analyze why a certain decision was made, words were spoken, or actions taken in the absence of direct discussion with the involved people typically leads to error.
2. Look beyond the noise for the truth. Too many self-proclaimed pundits and community representatives want to be part of the discussion more than they want to be part of the solution — it’s FOMO to the extreme, and they have no shame in trying to hijack a crisis for their own exposure. Tune them out (and keep them tuned out in the future).
3. Watch for key players who suddenly go silent. That can signal that they’ve made a misstep and hope to disappear, or that legal or crisis counsel have been retained and have clamped down.
4. In the same vein, be on the lookout for those who double-down on a position without introducing any additional facts or insights to back their statement. In some cases, this is a sign of bluster, with the hopes of sending the inquisitive hoards scurrying away.
5. When listening to those directly involved, note their voice pitch and rate of speech. Are those higher and faster than normal, and does that happen when confronted with a more challenging question or position? It’s not a foolproof sign of deceit, but indicates an elevation of stress and the fight-or-flight response.
Employ these tips with caution – you’ll find yourself reading, listening and watching news and commentary with a different perspective, much like a coach watches a sporting event. Yet what you’re seeing isn’t a game nor entertainment – it’s real people with real consequences.
By Mike McDougall