SenateSHJ has decades of experience in dealing with crises and over that time we have witnessed three main responses by management teams to a crisis.
All are driven by two parts of the brain — the pre-frontal cortex i.e. our rational thinking and the amygdala, a small almond-shaped part of the brain which dictates whether we fight, flight or freeze.
Before we judge anyone for how well or badly they reacted in a crisis, we should understand their behaviour was perfectly normal human behaviour — they received a stimulus, it triggered a mental response and they acted. The problem is when it comes to making the right decisions in the heat of a crisis, fight, flight or freeze responses rarely deliver good outcomes.
So here they are, the three responses to a company crisis that we have witnessed:
- The Ostrich — they hear the bad news and bury their heads in the sand hoping it will blow over or subside. Ironically, this tactic can work. Some companies purposefully employ this strategy, but be warned, it can be high risk on two fronts; 1) the news, social media and public sentiment can run away from you very quickly and grow increasingly negative and sometimes hostile; 2) the company can be accused of trying to hide things, ducking their responsibility and being irresponsible or intransigent in their response. This can result in a secondary issue for the crisis management team, trying to answer questions about why they didn’t respond when they knew.
- The Pugilist — the company goes on the attack and comes out swinging. It can involve one or more of the following: legal letters, statements and social media responses which are very defensive in nature and tone, reacting too quickly, denying things without really knowing the full facts, not showing empathy nor offering an apology, ignoring the context, saying or doing things (or not doing things) which can result in a secondary crisis, or which further inflame the situation.
These actions are inevitably driven by a combination of hubris, arrogance, and fear.
- The cool, calm and collected — the company has planned for this and has the necessary structures as well as crisis experienced people in place inside and outside the organisation. It has also tested them in some form of crisis simulation. They respond quickly but in a measured, empathetic way and always with a broader understanding for the context. They realise who their stakeholders are, how and when to communicate with them every step of the way, and they take control of the narrative. They balance advice from communication consultants and their lawyers — they don’t hide behind the law but realise that a well-placed, authentic apology and the right empathetic tone can help enormously in managing how they are perceived to be handling the crisis.
I would love to hear your views…does this tally with what you’ve seen? What other behaviours have you witnessed in crisis scenarios?