Employees pay an extraordinary amount of attention to what we do in the moment. What we communicate when we aren’t formally thinking about communication is what employees actually hear.
A lot has been, and will be, written about the importance of leadership communication in times of uncertainty and change. This year, unlike others in recent memory, challenges leaders to communicate with a higher bar of clarity, consistency and frequency.
COVID-19 has challenged us all to be flexible and adaptable at an amazing rate of speed. Business forecasts that looked strong and growing two months ago have cratered, workloads that were off the charts suddenly disappeared, everyone has had to connect electronically, and a simple handshake is no longer a viable way to greet a colleague or seal a deal. It’s easy to slide into anxiety and be paralyzed by uncertainty, but how we frame this moment in time is a powerful lever to our mental health and productivity. Leaders have always had to be masters at framing their thinking and the thinking of others, but with the coronavirus pandemic, the demand for that capability grew. What’s a Frame? Frames are the boundaries, interpretations and simplifications that we make mentally to understand a situation. We create them instinctively as a result of our experience and the data we take in, and they are particularly valuable in ambiguous or complex situations. We have both reactive frames, which shaped by our emotional responses, as well as proactive frames, which are shaped by logical thought. These mental filters not only help us make sense of a situation but also influence the range of actions we consider. As a result, our frame can be self-reinforcing, which is the powerful insight behind Chris Argyris’ “Ladder of Inference.” Frames are an integral part of processing information and making sense of a situation for ourselves. They are also a valuable tool to help leaders convey information to others.
In our work at Insight Experience, we focus a lot on communication as a key lever of leadership. It’s never been more important than right now, when many are facing crucible moments in and outside their business.
We are living through a case study of crisis management for leaders. The coronavirus may have limited or may have significant impact on your business, but in either case, it’s taking major mindshare for employees and creating anxiety in organizations around the globe. Insight Experience teaches leaders how to communicate effectively. Normally we’re focused on accelerating business results or aligning complicated organizations or helping engage employees to deliver on a vision. We see and learn from the leaders we work with all year long about how challenging effective communication is even in the simplest of settings. An unprecedented, unknown concern like coronavirus makes communication that is heard and helpful even more difficult to achieve.