In a crisis, communicate

Columns - outside the ropes

Subscribe
May 1, 2020

© adobe stock

As the COVID-19 pandemic has proved, there’s a big difference between real “news” and people just talking. Noise and distractions can blur what’s important. As a result, critical information can get lost in a sea of chatter. Chances are, none of this comes as a surprise to you. But these are still key points to remember when you are called upon to communicate, whether about COVID-19 or anything else.

Cluttered, confusing messages to your staff or golfers will inhibit forward progress. With so much new information coming every day, it’s crucial that you improve your communications methods: Your job should be to present the facts, clearly and completely, with an eye toward achieving the desired action or outcome.

COVID-19 is an example of our tendency to over-obsess about what we see on the news. It’s also a good, if unfortunate, example that troubled times demand succinct, swift and coherent communication to our members, customers, clients and bosses.

What lessons did you take from the pandemic? How did you spend your time sheltering at home? Were you glued to the TV set wondering if your golf course would re-open? Or did you craft a revival plan as well as a meaningful message explaining what will need to be done? Here’s what I learned:

Lesson No 1: Keep it simple, keep it real

At times like these, it’s essential that you communicate efficiently and truthfully. Especially when people are being bombarded with endless and contradictory messages. To get your points across:

  • No fluff. Don’t over-explain, sugar-coat, or make jokes.
  • Useless information wastes everyone’s time, especially yours.
  • Regular updates are important, but not too many. Don’t talk just to hear yourself.
  • Be honest: If labor is the issue, explain why your crew can’t get to every little detail.

Lesson No. 2: Timing is everything

  • If the information is irrelevant by the time you’re ready to use it, it’s too late.
  • If you have a long-range message regarding on-course activities to be conveyed over several months, daily updates are useless and a distraction.
  • Do not waste time – yours and your members’. If you have something worthwhile to share, great; otherwise, keep quiet and do your job.
  • Repeating the same message will annoy your audience. You’ll be seen as the guy crying “the sky is falling” and you’ll be ignored.

Lesson No. 3: Avoid hypotheticals

Don’t say what couldbe rather than what is known to be true.

  • Predictions are just that, and they will come back to hurt you. Bet on it.
  • Assumptions and guesses can turn out to be wrong, even when there’s some science behind them. Case in point? Weather forecasts.
  • Be careful of confirmation bias, believing something to be true, then bending everything else to fit that belief.

Communicating during a crisis takes extra discipline and leadership. Natural disasters, stock market dives and other disease outbreaks are learning experiences. And there’s nothing wrong with admitting that you are learning just like everyone else. All the more reason to make your points clearly and get things done as you prepare for whatever comes next. Whenever and however you are communicating, keep the following in mind:

Have a goal. Before you say or write anything, know what you want your audience to do with the information. Is action required, or are you trying to inform, educate or update?

What’s the best way? Should your message be written, appear on social media, be a video or photo? Will face-to-face work best? Make sure the medium fits the message.

Be organized. Start by creating an outline that includes your goal, main points and how you can illustrate them. Follow this plan and avoid “scope creep.” Be the one who stands firm when the world is shaky.

Be Persuasive. Use facts, though tough times do often call for appealing to your emotion. (Just don’t overdo it.)

Less is More. Be concise. Don’t waste time with tidbits, repeated information or overly complicated scientific details.

Keep it Simple. Don’t be a scientist. Use visuals to make or enhance your points.

Listen. Good communication is a two-way street. If you don’t give your audience the chance to engage – and then listen to them – you won’t connect. Encourage their feedback, listen to what they’re saying, and address their concerns.

Tim Moraghan, principal, ASPIRE Golf (tmoraghan@aspire-golf.com). Follow Tim’s blog, Golf Course Confidential at www.aspire-golf.com/buzz.html or on Twitter @TimMoraghan