One Simple Secret for Difficult Communications

Those who know me will say that I am a simple man, I like to take complicated things and simplify them. I do so because that is how I can remember them when under stress.

I have read many books on crisis communications, most of them are full of complicated suggestions that I could never hope to recall.

I have attended (and taught on) crisis negotiation courses in New Zealand, Australia, and with the FBI. Again, each course was fantastic but tended to provide information that was difficult to recall in the middle of a negotiation.

Here is one simple strategy for understanding how to use crisis communications with people who are in an emotional state which encompasses everything that I ever read and practised in my 13 years as a negotiator.

A book has a beginning, a middle and an end. It starts with the introduction and how something has occurred to give you the background. It moves on to the current situation and includes lots of explanation about the plot, i.e. what is happening. The book finishes with what happens next, the end game and takes the reader off into the future.

In negotiating and crisis communication you start with the middle, go back to the start, then finish at the end. 

You firstly need to know how the person is feeling, what's their current situation, what's going on around them. Get them to tell you, make it about them. Ask lots of open questions beginning with the words 'What' or 'How'.

Once you have enough information go back to the start, what was the cause and how did they get to the current position? (Notice the two words I used, what and how). This gives you the answers as to why they are in the position that they are in and allows them to tell you their story. While doing so they are venting and you are learning. The answers they give you will help you to participate in the end of the story, the resolution.

The last stage is the end of the story, moving towards the future. This is where you start to talk more. You work with the person to find the solutions and provide them with hope to move forward. Give them something to do so they are occupied and have ownership of their circumstances. 

In sum, start in the middle, go back to the beginning, and finish at the end. So often we want to go straight to the end, resist the temptation. If you mix these stages up the resolution will take much longer.