Spitfire Strategies

Keeping a Crisis from Boiling Over

Beth Kanter

By Beth Kanter
Chief Strategy Officer

A few weeks ago, I was flying home from a business trip when my plane landed at a different airport than scheduled before continuing on to our original destination. During the course of our unplanned adventure, the flight crew irritated its travel-weary customers even more by failing to clearly communicate with us about what was happening. We all would have been better off if the airline had followed these crisis communication best practices.

  • Before you say anything, get your internal house in order. When a crisis strikes, it’s important to ensure that all internal decision makers are on the same page before communicating with external audiences. When my plane landed at the wrong airport, our pilots told us that passengers with connecting flights would be able to get off and rebook rather than continuing to our original destination, only to find out that they didn’t have the authority to make that decision. This misinformation frustrated everyone on the plane andled us to question the rest of the information we were given.
  • Craft a clear message and anticipate tough questions. Once you have your internal house in order, determine what you need to say, how you want to say it and how it will be received. Messenger matters; consider who the best spokesperson will be during the crisis. Consider the questions you will be asked and be prepared with your response. When we landed at the wrong airport, my traveling companions and I asked the logical question: Why? The flight crew’s response – the plane landed because it ran out of fuel – only led to more questions that they were unable to answer, further reducing our confidence in their leadership.
  • Consider the emotional response. Factor the emotional and rational values and barriers of your audience into your messages. Modulate your delivery so that you are speaking to the emotional value that your primary audience needs to hear from you. In the case of our plane debacle, passengers needed to hear not only the facts, but empathy from the airline. Because they ignored our emotional needs, we got angry.
  • Keep your audiences updated. Even after you’ve apprised people of the initial situation, keep your priority audiences updated. My fellow passengers and I were left to guess what was taking so long as we sat on the tarmac of the wrong airport. You never want to leave your audiences guessing. Let people know how things are going and what you plan to do differently in the future to avoid the same thing happening again.

Need assistance responding to a crisis? Spitfire is here to help.

“This is a truly transformative program and there is no question that it is preparing leaders to be courageous communicators.”

- Colleen Bailey, Executive Director, The National Steinbeck Center

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