Kalamazoo

The Blog: Applying the glue of life

Editor’s note: This is the most recent installment of our new blog. We will be asking for insights from people from across the community who have something to say about their experiences, the ongoing state of affairs, or their lives that will speak to our current time together. Today we hear from Rick Chambers. If you would like to contribute please let us know. — Kathy Jennings, Managing Editor, Southwest Michigan's Second Wave

Mix an internet connection and what’s essentially house arrest, and you can drop smack into a deluge of news and opinions. Who is saying what today? What are they saying? Is it true? How does it affect me, my loved ones and my community?

While no one’s doing it perfectly, I see lots of evidence that businesses, organizations and legitimate news media are trying to communicate well during this global pandemic.

A case in point: I took a call from a Michigan business. Despite stringent screening measures, an employee had come in with COVID-19 symptoms. The employee was sent home and tested. With results imminent, management sought advice on how to communicate. As we talked, I carefully suggested a proactive public announcement. I knew this was necessary, but I didn’t know if they’d thought that far—which they needed to, and quickly. I’m glad to say they already had and were eager to do the right thing.

Empathy. Transparency. Authenticity. Being proactive, even when the news is bad. These are crucial to preserving trust in a crisis. Stephen Covey once called trust “the glue of life,” and good communication is essential to applying it.

Trust forms the basis of every positive relationship. That includes the connection between organizations and people. How a business or group communicates in a crisis powerfully influences people’s trust. But good communication needs to start long before a crisis hits and continue long after.

As the pandemic ramped up over the past month, I’ve provided crisis communication counsel for several organizations across Michigan. It warms my heart to see how determined they are to apply the glue of life, especially at the local level. 

I’ve seen corporations, foundations, and nonprofits collaborate on ways to raise and invest money to meet the real needs of people. I’ve watched action teams involving government, service agencies, nonprofits, and businesses apply their unique skills to help workers and vulnerable residents. I’ve cheered leaders for tackling tough concerns through honest, open, empathetic dialogue.

Of course, that’s not true everywhere. Much of the federal government, for example, continues to offer a case study in how not to do crisis communication—conflicting messages, chest-thumping, and scapegoating. Some businesses try to play both sides of the pandemic message, expressing concern for those at risk while doing little to protect or support their workers.

Trust isn’t eternal, and it isn’t a given. The glue of life won’t stick when diluted by poor communication.

The COVID-19 crisis is a long way from being over. At any point along the way, trust can be tarnished, even lost. Good communication rooted in concern, compassion, and openness is the key to protecting and strengthening that glue.

But it’s more than that. For the people struggling to cope with the wide-reaching effects of this pandemic—fear, lost wages, not knowing where the next meal or rent check will come from, anxious to know where to turn and who to count on—it’s the right thing to do.

Rick Chambers is the owner and president of Rick Chambers & Associates, LLC. He brings more than 35 years of experience in corporate communications, public relations, and journalism.
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