Illustration: Ashley Siebels
At some point in your career, you might be at the unfortunate end of a professional crisis. Let’s say you accidentally sent out a mass email. Or worse, you committed the ultimate career suicide and hooked up with your boss. Whether it be a small or large faux pas, here are six damage control tips from two PR pros:
The first 48 hours of a crisis is critical. To ensure you remain in control of how the story is told, first acknowledge the situation. Next, you’ll start taking the necessary steps to shape the outcome.
Create a strong response in a firm & clear language
Using weak words or phrases such as ‘maybe’ and ‘just’ strip your authority and make you seem powerless. Many speech experts recommend eliminating those words from your vocabulary altogether. Replace these phrases with ‘I think’, ‘I believe’, and ‘I feel’. For even stronger options use ‘I’m confident’, ‘I’m convinced’, and ‘I expect’.
Build consensus among natural allies & potential rivals
You may have to dig but in every situation, there are at least a handful of things everyone can agree on. Find those few things and use them as a tool to bring people to your side.
Drive the story
There’s always an information vacuum surrounding every story. Fill it or it will be filled for you. Set the record straight by addressing misinformed parties of your side of the story.
Don’t lie or “spin” the truth
There’s nothing is worse than being caught in a lie. Most people have a short memory, and can be pretty forgiving if you are open and honest. Share as much information as possible to demonstrate credibility.
Have a plan
Be prepared to communicate quickly over all forms of social and traditional media. If you usually find yourself lost for words, jot down a few talking points. This will make it easier to get your point across in a clear and concise way in high-stress situations. Have pre-developed answers to awkward questions will show that you are grace under pressure. Hesitation is death.
Joy Lammie is a crisis communications expert with more than 6 years of experience in the Washington, DC social and political scene. Michael Hardaway is a crisis communications advisor who guides professional athletes, policymakers, and corporate leaders.