It is every executive’s most dreaded moment. You have bad news and you have to deliver it to a room full of people who are not happy with your company. Employees being told about job cuts. Neighbors learning about an environmental spill. Shareholders who won’t be getting expected dividends on their investment.
Here are 10 tips for staying cool and maintaining control in an angry room.
- Think before you walk through that door. What can you do in advance of the meeting to set the stage? Springing bad news on any group is not a strategy for success. Sharing the news prior to the meeting can help people to process the information. You can also anticipate some key questions and outline the steps you are taking to mitigate the situation.
- Be prepared. Work with a skilled communications pro to practice any statement you plan to make and answers to anticipated questions. Recognize that you will be challenged and prepare yourself.
- Manage your emotions. Stay calm, moderate your tone and don’t be combative when faced with hostile questions and comments.
- Be human. Showing empathy can be a critical tool. Expressing sympathy and doing it honestly, with humility can help defuse the room. People get angrier if they sense a disconnected, uncaring spokesperson.
- Establish credibility. Come with the facts and practice a full disclosure style. You don’t have to admit fault or accept liability in delivering the basic details of the situation. Facts are your most powerful tool in managing a crisis.
- Answer questions. Use the facts and stick to them. Don’t speculate or guess at the answer. If you are still gathering details or don’t know the answer, say so and promise an update later. Offering a “no comment” or refusing to answer a question equates to “guilty as charged” in the eyes of the crowd.
- Don’t lie. People support organizations they feel they can trust. Stick to the facts.
- Get the bad news out. If the news is bad and you know it will come out eventually, it is best for you to deliver it in a controlled manner. People can accept bad news and do so far better than dealing with uncertainty. Even worse is when they believe you provided shifty answers and dodged the truth.
- Set the record straight. If someone makes a statement or asks a question that contains false information, politely state the facts. If there have been false rumors on social media or in media reports, your opening statement is the perfect place to state the facts about what is known.
- Answer the tough questions before they get asked. Admit to obvious mistakes or accidents. Strong reputations are built by people and companies that are willing to take responsibility in both the good times and the bad.
Rick Lyke is Executive Vice President—Managing Director with the Mower PR & PA Group, which provides issues management, media training and crisis simulation services for clients.