Over the last couple of weeks, I have been watching with interest as old colleagues describe a leadership crisis that is going on at a company I use to work for. I asked one person, how is the leadership team communicating about the crisis?

The answer:  ‘Radio silence’.

And sure enough, that is leading to uncertainty, ‘water cooler’ talk, confusion, fear and of course, an unhealthy environment.

Personally, I have always believed that in situations like this, if there is no communication broadly, then people will fill that void by making stuff up. Truth or not, the void gets filled with hypothesis, conjecture and generally negative information.

It is amazing how much has been written about this. A great case of this is comparing how Tylenol dealt with their product recall issues and how BP botched the Gulf incident. An HBR blog post on the topic really hits the mark:

To survive, humans developed a keen ability to judge other people in terms of their intentions or "warmth," and on their ability to carry out those intentions, or their "competence." Studies in 36 countries have defined the attributes of warmth and competence to include, among other traits, the trustworthiness and selflessness that Tylenol aced and BP flunked. The degree to which consumers identify warmth and competence traits with brands strongly predicts intent to purchase, likelihood to recommend, and brand loyalty.

The same logic can be applied from brand to working in teams, and to the internal crisis that my old company is facing. How do you maintain trust and an air of competence if you are unwilling to step forward and address the issues head on?

It is all about building trust, being open and ensuring that people understand the entire picture. It is all about understanding human nature, not ignoring it.


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