The current crisis is still far from being over and it is not possible to make statements that apply to all governments in the world. In particular, the dynamic developments worldwide and arrival of new information on an hourly basis doesn’t recommend talking in general terms. Nonetheless, some mistakes in Crisis Communication seem to have been done by many governments since the beginning of the pandemic.
1. Finding their Crisis Communication Amidst the Crisis
One of the basic principles of Crisis Management is that you must have a crisis management plan before the crisis takes place, and it has to be updated regularly instead of lying in a drawer. It is astonishing how many heads of government appeared to have been caught by surprise and changed their crisis communication over the weeks. Inconsistent communication undermines trustworthiness.
2. Reacting instead of Informing
Another principle of communication, in particular in a corporate or governmental environment, is that rumours grow where information lacks. In a time full of fake news and conspiracy theories that disseminate very fast, crisis teams that don’t communicate fast and fact-based are always running behind. Let alone governments spreading fake news and conspiracy theories themselves. The others are always going to be faster and they play by other rules.
3. Downplaying the Real Dimension of the Crisis
Before the Covid-19 cases started to skyrocket in their countries, most governments seemed committed to telling their citizens that what was happening in others countries would not happen in theirs. However, country after country became a hotspot for the virus and, eventually, had to tell their citizens a different story and impose similar restrictions. If not blatant lying, the reason for that was making premature statements without having full information. That brings us to the next point.
4. Communicating with Uncertain Facts
In a crisis, it’s imperative to respond quickly and support your decisions with as much data as available at the moment. Transparent and fact-based communication is crucial in exceptional situations where a bad decision is still better than no decision. However, over and over again, governments seem to have made decisions in this crisis that their voters cannot understand what they are based on. When will schools have to close? When will they reopen? Why can one type of business reopen and another can’t? Where are the red lines? What made the government change their mind here and there? Even if a decision turns out to be wrong, it should be clear and understable based on what facts, numbers, data they were made.
5. Diverting Attention to Someone Else
In a crisis, people expect actions before finding someone to blame. In this kind of situation, there are usually victims and pointing fingers before taking care of those affected exposes a stronger interest for self-preservation than what you are actually in charge of, namely solving the problems your people have now. Country leaders trying to transfer responsibility to their opposition or foreign countries are not only underperforming in their duties but they are also communicating those priorities.