Optimizing Communications in a Crisis
In the Navy, whenever there was a shipboard emergency like a fire or nuclear plant problem, the attention of the ship usually focused on limiting the damage and recovering to normal operations. Generally, the major internal communications circuits were dedicated to dealing with the emergency. The damage control officer or the engineering officer of the watch would manage the channel and limit chatter to essential information.
But there would always be someone whose urge to contribute overcame the need to focus. Petty Officer Jones would suddenly pipe in with an observation about a minor anomaly at his workstation that bore no relevance to the crisis at hand. Transmissions like these created distractions that crowded out critical communications, and worse, diverted resources that were urgently needed to fight the immediate casualty.
The lesson here for leaders is to temper the dictate to “over-communicate” in a crisis with the discipline to recognize that communication channels will also be flooded with input from Petty Officer Jones. Over-communicating does not mean continuing to talk when you have run out of important things to say. Three actions can help:
- Organize and prioritize outreach to your team in a way that sets a pace you can keep throughout the crisis without burning them out;
- Discipline yourself and your team to embrace sidebar communications with only essential personnel as a means to deal with narrow issues that don’t need to involve everyone;
- Reduce distractions by prioritizing and cutting down on the communications you and your team receive from outside entities, by changing the receipt frequency, e.g. daily to weekly, or unsubscribing altogether.
After the crisis passes, you will be able to turn up the noise again – if you want to. You may get used to the peace.