Effective communication during a crisis can make or break a company’s reputation and future success. Some companies have excelled in this regard, while others have experienced severe fallout due to poor communication.

Complex technology will sometimes fail, that’s the realty of the modern world. So any criticism of Optus for their recent telecommunications and internet network failure must begin at that point.

The real test for any company that experiences such events with a broad public impact, is how that company reacts afterwards. Optus, which has experienced such events twice now in 13 months – a massive data breach and now a systems failure – should know that better than anyone, but apparently not.

This recent Optus event is what prompted me to write this article and explore examples of both good and bad communications during major incidents, and dissect the key differences between them.

Good Communication During Crisis: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

The Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 remains one of the most notorious environmental disasters in history. However, Exxon’s response to the crisis set a high standard for crisis communication.

1. Quick and Transparent Response:

Exxon responded swiftly to the incident, acknowledging their responsibility and expressing deep regret. They made sure the public was informed about the situation as it developed.

2. Empathetic Messaging:

Exxon’s CEO, Lawrence Rawl, personally visited the spill site and met with affected individuals. His genuine empathy and commitment to resolving the issue helped build trust.

3. Taking Responsibility:

Exxon accepted full responsibility for the spill and pledged to clean up the affected areas. They also created a compensation fund for affected individuals and businesses.

4. Continuous Updates:

Exxon provided regular updates on cleanup progress and actively engaged with the media to address questions and concerns.

Bad Communication During Crisis: BP and the Deepwater Horizon Disaster

In stark contrast, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 saw BP facing severe backlash for its communication approach.

1. Denial and Lack of Responsibility:

BP initially downplayed the extent of the spill and shifted blame to contractors. This evasive behaviour eroded public trust and fuelled anger.

2. Confusing and Contradictory Statements:

BP issued contradictory statements, leading to confusion about the true scale of the disaster and the effectiveness of their response efforts.

3. Insensitive Remarks:

CEO Tony Hayward made insensitive comments like “I want my life back,” which alienated those affected by the spill and the public at large.

4. Slow Response:

BP was slow to contain the spill and failed to provide consistent updates on their progress, leaving affected communities in the dark.

The Key Differences Between Good and Bad Communication During Crisis

1. Accepting Responsibility vs. Denial:

Good communicators accept responsibility for their actions and demonstrate a commitment to resolving the issue. Bad communicators often deny or deflect blame, causing public outrage.

2. Empathy vs. Insensitivity:

Good communicators show empathy towards those affected, while bad communicators may display insensitivity, leading to further public anger.

3. Transparency vs. Evasiveness:

Transparency builds trust, whereas evasiveness and contradictory statements erode it.

4. Swift Action vs. Delay:

Acting quickly and effectively to address the crisis is crucial for maintaining public confidence. Delays in response can result in heightened negative perceptions.

What Conclusions Can We Draw?

The Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon incidents offer valuable lessons in crisis communication.

Effective communication involves accepting responsibility, showing empathy, maintaining transparency, and acting swiftly.

Companies that fail to follow these principles risk severe fallout, damage to their reputation, and long-term consequences.

In today’s interconnected world, the power of communication cannot be underestimated, especially in times of crisis.

More Information

For more information about the work of George Lee Sye, visit www.9skillsfactory.com where you’ll discover one of the most significant professional development programs in the world today covering topics of leadership, influence, business execution, and lean six sigma.

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