Tips from a former interrogator on how to lead a company during the COVID-19 outbreak

Communication is key during the coronavirus outbreak.

Whether it’s through in-person interaction or instilling hope and promise in other ways to workers, the coronavirus is testing how we communicate and how comfortable we are with our levels of vulnerability in uncertain times.

With the number of cases rising by the day, it seems the COVID-19 outbreak will have significant financial implications that will cause much harm throughout the world. In the US, job security has already been harmed due to the outbreak, with nearly 18% of workers either out of work or having their hours cut short due.

Instilling a voice during the coronavirus pandemic is not only important, but it’s essential both for leaders and employees, according to a former interrogator.

Michael Reddington, CFI, an expert forensic interviewer and the president of InQuasive, which offers businesses and leaders with the keys to communication, spoke to Ladders about how both business leaders and employees can communicate during the COVID-19 outbreak. Reddington said one of the best ways to evaluate yourself as a leader is to ask yourself, “If you’re OK, they’re OK.”

“How do we model the behavior, the communication, the respect, and compassion that we’re looking from the rest of the team,” Reddington said over the phone Thursday. “One of the ways we look to do that from a communications standpoint as simple as this sounds, slow down and quiet down. When people are uneasy, any uneasiness they sense in others tends to multiple the uneasiness that they’re feeling.”

Reddington said the key to understanding the “If you’re OK, they’re OK” mantra is to slow down, quiet down, and be aware of word choice. In addition, choosing words carefully to be mindful of emotional reaction is another important pillar because it can be the difference in understanding the seriousness of a situation.

How business leaders should communicate with workers

As leaders have found out by now, communicating in the office and remotely are two entirely different things. With social distancing becoming the way to contain the coronavirus, most businesses have closed their offices to allow workers to work from home and keep themselves away from the coronavirus.

With workers at home, most are going to feel some form of isolation. Reddington stressed that keeping in touch during this time is a must for leaders.

“We can probably think to any time or relationship in our life often when silence creeps in, doubt creeps in,” he said. “We often focus on the worst-case scenario. Then within that consistency, make the conversations people first, business second.”

Reddington suggested asking about personal things first before diving into business:

  • How’s your family?
  • How’s everything going?
  • How are you?
  • What do you need from us?

Using those types of pointers nearly leads into Reddington’s next point: demonstrating authentic vulnerability without making it about themselves.

“[Coronavirus] hurts everybody,” Reddington said. “But there’s a fine line about demonstrating vulnerability and making it about yourself. The more leaders say things like, ‘I think, I want, My decision’… These don’t all sound bad in a vacuum, but when they stack upon each other in a conversation, demonstrating vulnerability is one thing, demonstrating that we care and understand the effect this is having on people and it affects us.”

One thing bosses and managers should understand is class lines. If an employee is out of work or working reduced time and hears a business owner talk about how tough life is right now, the perception is the business owner has money.

“It’s balancing that fine line of demonstrating vulnerability without making it accidentally about themselves,” Reddington said.

Another thing to be conscious of is thinking about the why before the what. Reddington explained it’s important because people react the strongest to what they hear first. When someone talks about the why before the what, it allows the receivers to understand the reasoning before the decision which can lower stress and keep workers’ attention.

“If a leader opens up a sentence in the conversation with, ‘Here’s our decision… Here’s why we’re doing it’… Whenever they say that, we immediately start filtering that to what it means for us,” he said. “We’re listening to our internal monologue and we’re not even listening to what the leader is saying. We can be focusing on the negative instead of the positive. That whole concept of stating the why before the what becomes extremely important in conversations like this.”

How workers should communicate with bosses

For employees, being able to express how you feel during the coronavirus crisis might be challenging. Employees are often programmed to go into work with their game face and somehow block out outside noise so it doesn’t affect production at the office.

In times of need, it’s acceptable to be vulnerable. But in order for employees to feel comfortable expressing how they feel, it starts with leaders demonstrating vulnerability first.

Reddington said leaders can share information about the coronavirus or any crisis via credible sources, whether it’s the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control or coming from a reputable source or expert. From the employees’ perspective, it’s important to be in touch with your emotions right now and not be afraid.

“It’s easy for us to feel alone because we’re trapped in our house or apartment, but we are sharing this experience with nearly the entire globe,” Reddington explained. “It’s ironic that we feel alone and rightfully feel alone while sharing an experience with billions of people. Don’t feel vulnerable.”

He continued: “The number one fear that will stop people from doing most things is not a failure, it is embarrassment. The number one fear that will likely stop people from reaching out is, are they feeling embarrassed or feeling like other people need the help more, or the people that are offering the help are too busy and won’t do it.”

Don’t be afraid to reach out to peers or friends at work or even someone in the community. The internet is also an option through social media like Facebook or community websites like Reddit.

One other thing that’s important for managers is to become an ambiguity filter, according to Reddington.

“When we think about that stress in the vulnerability that employees feel, oftentimes in a situation like this, that feeling is exacerbated due to their lack of information and the increased uncertainty that comes with that,” he said.

“Nobody knows what exactly is going to happen. We’re all building puzzles and missing a whole bunch of pieces. Anything leaders can do to swallow that ambiguity and translate consistency or confidence.”