Communicating in Times of Uncertainty

Posted on: February 18, 2022, by :

Uncertainty has become more common over the past couple of years—perhaps more so than many leaders, and business owners, would like to accept. Yet many long for a return to normal, even though realists acknowledge that the term “normal” is associated with the past.

At this point, as leaders continue to try and develop solutions to complex challenges associated with navigating through a global pandemic, they, and their teams, need to proactively communicate in times of uncertainty.

I am a management coach—a professional who practices active listening and the art of asking questions to solve problems, daily. Many of my clients have tremendous depth of technical or other expertise, which means that, when they are promoted into management, at times with only a few years of experience in the workforce, there is limited capacity to support their immediate responsibility to confidently manage the performance of others.

Communicating in times of uncertainty poses similar challenges.
That’s why I believe that proactive communication can serve to support new and seasoned managers alike—especially when it comes to communicating during times of heightened uncertainty. My approach to communication within organizations is straightforward, though not always simple: share what you know and be clear about what you don’t know and why.

I find it helpful to my clients that I communicate with transparency during our sessions and believe that using a similar approach when communicating within our organizations can improve understanding, empower employees, and build trust.

Throughout the pandemic, organizations have made announcements, sent emails, and updated intranets to share information with employees. In-person meetings were convened to share changes in practices and distribute regulatory guidance.
But messages have also lacked at key moments. Internal communication missteps may have combined with problematic, if not confusing messaging, from governmental agencies. Organizations and employees were too often left to interpret guidance on their own, lacking a means for seeking clarification.

New efforts to clean up or repair miscommunication have occurred, too often too late with trust being broken and enthusiasm waning for initiatives designed to protect public health. With so much unknown, and the science supporting the pandemic still developing, communities, organizations, and individuals deserve better. They deserve acknowledgement of the unknown and transparency about what remains unknown and why.

Translating this high-level pandemic-related experience down to a local level within our organizations, we can ensure employees know which direction the organization is headed in and why. Managers can share when decisions need to be made based upon incomplete information and why, also acknowledging that plans may change when more is learned. Communicating openly and as transparently as possible during times of uncertainty can build confidence and trust. Not communicating proactively gives the opportunity for speculation and misunderstanding.

Trying to manage during a global pandemic presents us with many challenges. In my experience, communicating proactively and being transparent, is possible and helpful. There’s no doubt investing time and effort in proactive communication in the short term, go a long way to ensuring trust is maintained and performance levels remain intact in the long term.

In learning to manage in today’s uncertain times, we can no longer be reactionary and expect our employees to trust us, we must learn to be proactive in our communication and willing to admit that we don’t always have all of the answers.