I read recently about a restaurant owner who tried to deal with his difficult situation by pretending everything is OK…

…when it definitely was not OK.

Prior to reopening his dining room, he chose not to get rid of tables and create space between them. Instead, he kept all his tables and filled several of them with mannequins.

His thinking: By “filling” some of the seats with dummies, he kept the real, breathing, at-risk-of-infection customers properly socially distanced. Meanwhile, the restaurant seemed more full, making it seem more normal.

Everything’s OK, right?

Not really.

We all want to believe that everything is fine in our lives, community, and businesses. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and it looks like we’ll be facing uncertainty for the foreseeable future.

Rather than pretend all is fine, we as leaders need to recognize and acknowledge the threats we face — whether business, public, or economic — and communicate with our team openly and honestly.

That doesn’t mean we have to be all gloom-and-doom. We can reassure them when doing so is accurate and honest. But if you pretend all is normal — when it’s not — people will see through that, and you’ll undermine trust.

Here are some tips on how to communicate with your team when the message is challenging:

1. Use the STOP technique to calm your own stress.

S: Stop to pull your thoughts together
T: Take a breath to ground yourself in the present moment
O: Observe how you feel about the issue or situation
P: Proceed with crafting and delivering the message

2. Empathize with your audience.

How much does your team know already? What do they fear? What questions will they have? What information will they want right away?

3. Gather accurate information and data.

Your team will want and need the facts. When a bad situation is not clearly defined, our imagination takes over.

4. Discuss next steps.

Don’t just dump the bad news on them! Tell them what you plan to do and what they can do to help. Get their input and define specific action steps.

5. Communicate frequently.

Even if there’s no news to share, letting your team know what’s happening (“the situation hasn’t changed” or “we’re waiting for more information”) is better than having them create their own worst-case scenario stories.

Until everything is fine and normal again, let’s work on communicating with our employees — directly, honestly, and emphatically. Filling the tables with mannequins may make things look OK at first glance. But, soon they figure out that they’re in a room full of dummies — which is kind of creepy and not very comforting.

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