We have all been there – something has gone terribly wrong and you are about to lose your nerve. In such moments of crisis, good communication is key. But how do we manage to take control and to defuse the situation?

In my experience, there are several communication measures that can help you to get through a crisis unharmed. The first measure I have in mind is of preventive character. By taking good care of your key stakeholders, you are able to build a stable network of trust, which in turn can work as a safety net for you in times of crisis. The safety net can include clients and partners but also politicians or public authorities. If your business is subject to the public eye, then well-planned and continuous operated media relations are very important.

Also important is to keep in mind that there could be players who have a negative perception of your business. In this case, there is another preventive measure that one can use – the risk analysis. Every organization should know about its environment and about the attitude of the key players towards oneself. Since there is usual at least one opponent, it is all the more important to identify those players and to get to know their motives. Only then can you proactively address the situation and define which communication measures you should take next. Personally, I recommend to communicate openly and honestly whenever possible and to foster a dialogue between all involved parties. Avoidance behavior and cover-ups tend to backfire – better you face your opponents at eye level.

In order to steel yourself for a crisis, you should not only focus on your surroundings, but also on internal processes in your organization. Do you have a crisis communication strategy? Such a strategy derives from the risk analysis mentioned above and should contain as many concrete crisis scenarios as possible. Who is the responsible person in a crisis situation? Who has to be informed? Who takes decisions and who communicates? These are all important questions, which should not only be answered when the crisis is already happening – there will not be much time for discussions. And that is exactly when you are most vulnerable you make mistakes.

Avoid escalation

Now, we are in the middle of the crisis, at least hypothetical. Ideally, you are well prepared and you have done your homework. In this case, you should keep calm and stick to the crisis strategy. However – since ideal situations are the exception – I have some practical advice for you. Do not let them take you by surprise. If the crisis catches you unprepared, you should call in an emergency meeting right away. A smooth information flow inside the organization is of crucial significance. Agree on a communication strategy and put a person in charge of supervising the whole process. You should also name a person who will answer to the public. Do not forget to keep your employees and coworkers informed on every step at all times. Furthermore, you should prepare an official statement. Depending on the size of your organization, you should also think about organizing a press conference. In any case, you should take the initiative and communicate your views and opinions.

Lessons from crisis

In the aftermath of a crisis, it is very tempting to just forget about the whole incident and move on. Of course, moving on is important. But keep in mind that there are probably more crisis to come. This is why you need to analyze the events during – and maybe even before – the crisis. What can you learn from the past events? Which measures do you need to take? Which processed need to be adapted? Prepare yourself well so that you can face the next crisis with more serenity.