Jim Wisdom #41: 12 Axioms of Crisis Survival

The Key to Crisis Management is Pattern Recognition.

Managing emergencies, crises, and disasters successfully means recognizing patterns of success and avoiding patterns of failure, and defeat. Understanding these patterns enables us to coach and prepare management’s actions, emotions, and expectations before and during emergency situations. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Neither the media, your toughest opponents, smartest critics, nor the government knows enough to defeat you. Defeat is almost always the work of uninformed or overconfident, overly optimistic bosses, co-workers, and associates; well-meaning but uninformed friends, relatives, or from dysfunction in an organization.
  2. All crises are local, at the beginning. Keeping the issues and focus tight and small will help you solve your problems and move forward. Your “industry,” outsiders, or the media cannot solve your problems (they don’t care), nor can you solve theirs. You must solve your own. It’s your destiny. Manage it or someone else will.
  3. Disasters and problems rarely kill products, brands, or companies unless you let them. It is your silence, negative communication, and attitude that cause tough questions, bad stories, and real damage. Silence is the most toxic strategy of all.
  4. Colorful and memorable language creates headlines that last forever, are impossible to live down, and are among the most frequent causes of top executive dismissal during a crisis. Bad news always ripens badly, especially for those at the helm.
  5. Twenty-five percent of your resources and fifty percent of your energy during
    emergencies go toward fixing yesterday’s mistakes. Crises are messy, sloppy, imprecise situations. Everything gets worse before most anything gets better.
  6. Positive, aggressive, assertive communication limits follow-up questions, focuses on the most important aspects of the problem, and moves the entire process forward to resolution despite a negative environment, antagonistic news media or contentious social media, angry victims and survivors. Positive, constructive, compassionate actions always speak louder than words.
  7. There is no question you can be asked about your situation that will surprise you. You may get irritated, agitated, or humiliated because a really tough or touchy subject is raised, but you aren’t surprised. Promptly answering every question is your ongoing opportunity to get your messages out, and calm things down.
  8. Preparation, rehearsal, and a certain amount of luck will keep you going and help you win.
  9. Luck is limited.
  10. The general public does not care about your problems until you make them care. Fifty percent have no reason to care:
    Twenty-five percent probably have troubles worse than yours, from their perspective, anyway; and If you get the attention of those remaining, they will probably be glad you have the trouble you have.
  11. Leadership that shows compassion, community sensitivity, humility, civility, and ethical response strategies moves companies to victory and out of harm’s way. Timidity, hesitation, confusion, and arrogance bring defeat and long-term trust damage. Keep the positive pressure on to win.
  12. Destructive management communication behavior and language often lead to similar troubling behavior at many levels within an organization. Leadership has three principal responsibilities in crisis: Stopping the production of victims, managing the victim dimension, and setting the moral tone for the response.

Jim’s Wisdom #40: Profiles In Failure

Behavior Patterns That Precipitate and Perpetuate Trouble

Sometimes the way to prevent organizations from embarrassment, humiliating visibility, enormous litigation, and just plain stupidity is to powerfully illustrate the behaviors and attitudes that lead to catastrophic reputational damage. I call this pattern “Profiles in Failure,” easily recognized behaviors and their predictable impact. If you seek trouble, here’s the path to multitask your way into long-term difficulty.

Silence:The most toxic strategy. Makes you look like a perpetrator, whether true or not. There is no credible way to explain silence in the face of crisis. Silence is the most frequent leadership career-killer in crisis situations. It’s why the boss gets fired first.  
Stalling:Speed beats smart every time. Failure to act immediately, even incorrectly, is impossible to explain or apologize for. Doing nothing, even for what appear to be good reasons, is never explainable. #1 response criticism: failure to speak and act promptly.  
Denial:Refuse to accept the fact that something bad has happened and that there may be victims or other direct effects that require prompt public acknowledgement.  
Victim Confusion:Irritable reaction to reporters, angry neighbors, and victims’ families when they call asking for help, information, explanation, or apology. “Hey! We’re victims too.”  
Testosterosis:Look for ways to hit back, rather than to deal with the problem.  Refuse to give in, refuse to respect those who may have a difference of opinion or a legitimate issue.  
Arrogance:Reluctance to apologize, express concern or empathy, or to take appropriate responsibility because, “If we do that, we’ll be liable,” or, “We’ll look like sissies,” or, “We’ll set a precedent,” or, “There will be copycats.”  
Search for the Guilty:Shift blame anywhere you can while digging into the organization, looking for traitors, turncoats, troublemakers, those who push back, and the unconvinceables.  
Fear of the Media:As it becomes more clear that the problem is at least partly real, the media begin asking, “What did you know, and when did you know it?”, “What have you done, and when did you do it?”, and other humiliating, embarrassing, and damaging questions for which there are no really good, truthful answers anymore because you have stalled so long.  
Whining:Head down, finger in your navel, shuffling around, whining, and complaining about how bad your luck is, about being a victim of the media, zealous do-gooders, wacko-activists, or people don’t know anything; about how people you don’t respect have power; and, that you “don’t get credit” for whatever good you’ve already contributed.

Execute one, some or all of these behaviors in any order and I guarantee trouble, serious reputation problems, and brand damage. By the time you recover – if you do – look for some career-defining moments including involuntary departure, and a new team may replace you and yours. 

Jim’s Wisdom #39: Communicate Intentionally

Over the years, I’ve developed, taught, coached, and advocated a very powerful and helpful communication philosophy. At the same time, this approach defines my ethical approach to life, to work and to trouble. I call these “intentions” because this is how I seek to operate my life, intentionally, every day, teach others to do the same. These intentions build trust, respect, and confidence.

1. Candor – Truth with an attitude, delivered now (the foundation blocks of trust).

  • Disclose, announce early.
  • Explain reasoning and reasons.
  • Discuss options, alternatives considered.
  • Provide unsolicited helpful information.

2. Openness, accessibility – Be available for the disasters as well as the ribbon cuttings.

  • Be available.
  • Be willing to respond.
  • Get out front fast.

3. Truthfulness – Truth is 15% facts and data, 85% emotion and point-of-reference.

  • Point of reference matters more than facts.
  • Factual overload victimizes people and makes them feel stupid, angrier.
  • Too many facts irritate and revictimize.
  • Unconditional honesty, from the start.
  • Get good at reducing emotionally negative situations, subjects, and people behaviors.
  • Emotions always outweigh facts.

4. Empathy – Actions that illustrate concern, sensitivity, and compassion.

  • Actions always speak louder than words.
  • Act as though it was happening to you or someone you care about.
  • Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes in any way is literally impossible, from the victim’s perspective. Avoid it.

5. Responsiveness – Answering questions relentlessly in every situation validates your integrity and preserves your reputation.

  • Every concern or question, regardless of the source, is legitimate and must be addressed.
  • Answer every question; avoid judging the questioner.
  • Answer questions as many times as they are asked.
  • Avoid taking any question personally.
  • Remain calm, wage peace, build followers and be nice, even in the face of anger or aggressive negativity. You anger and arrogance create plaintiffs.
  • Answer questions patiently and repetitively until questions stop being asked.

6. Transparency – End the secrets (because important things and stupid stuff always come out).

  • Our behavior, our attitude, our plans, even our strategic discussions are unchallengeable, positive, and explainable.
  • Our families would be comfortable reading about our actions, decisions, and discussions on the web or the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper.

7. Engagement – Face-to-face is the communications approach desired by just about everyone and every victim.

  • Take aggressive positive interaction with those who challenge us.
  • Our base and those who give us permission to operate expect us to deal with unconvinceables and victims.
  • Prompt direct interactive response, even negotiation, empowers the initiator.

8. Small Decencies

  • Small, voluntary, freely offered acts of courage, kindness, helpfulness.
  • Given, provided, or done without expectation of reward or acknowledgement.
  • A life pattern of simple, spontaneous, utterly decent actions.

9. Destiny Management – It’s your destiny, which only you can manage in your own best interest.

  • Manage your own destiny, or you’ll find someone waiting on the sidelines to do it for you.
  • Relentlessly correct and clarify the record.
  • Prompt, positive, constructive elaboration of the facts preempts critics and empowers employees, supporters and those who give us permission to operate.

10. Apology – The atomic energy of empathy. Apologies stop bad things, and bad things from starting.

  • Acknowledge personal responsibility for having injured, insulted, failed, or wronged another.
  • Explain what happened and the known reasons for the circumstance.
  • Talk about what you and your organization have learned that will help prevent a recurrence.
  • Humbly ask for forgiveness in exchange for more appropriate future behavior and to make amends.
  • Make restitution.

You can call this anything you like: communications policy, guidelines, or manifesto. I like the word intentions because it signifies that we are fully engaged in communicating in the most effective, honest, empathetic, and open manner possible, all the time.

By publicly professing these intentions you will set a standard to which you can be held accountable. This behavior can lead to an extraordinarily interesting, useful, and trustworthy life, and besides, you sleep better at night.

Let’s talk about it. I’m always interested in helping colleagues develop their own personal principles. Reach out to me at 203-948-7029 or jel@e911.com.

James E. Lukaszewski
Americas Crisis Guru®

ABC, Fellow IABC, APR, Fellow PRSA, BEPS Emeritus (2015) 

Mainstreet Village, 7601 Lyndale Ave S, STE 32, Richfield MN 

Jim’s Wisdom #38: Waging Peace, Avoiding Incivility

Bad news is caused by intentionally chosen negative language.

Peace and civility come from intentionally chosen positive language and behavior.

  • How to build a constructive, positive, and happy environment at work, in the community, and home.
  • How to remove the negativity of snipy, nasty, and upset people from your workplace, community, and even your home life.
  • Become obsessed enough to wage peace, eradicate bad language, and have a civil, decent, and productive life.

Waging Peace

The crucial ingredients in civil, decent, helpful, and important communication are positive language and behavior. Yes, it’s that simple, but still extremely hard to accomplish every day all day. Experience shows that one of the most powerful drivers of leadership success is a relentless reliance on positive language. Talking about what to do rather than what not to do.

What’s required first is the eradication of negative language. This step eliminates negative behavior, decisions, and attitudes. How does one really do that? Can peace, tranquility, civility, and decency be that simple to achieve? A passionate commitment to positive language and behavior is challenging and persistently difficult for human beings to commit to. But help is here.

Eradicating Negative Language

When I’m teaching leadership how to get themselves out of trouble our first stop and constant commitment is to remove negativity of every kind from our daily lives, and the lives of others. This is a discipline that requires constant attention. The systematic removal of negativity from our lives will have immediate impact on everyone around you. They will notice. They will notice more when you insist that they too be positive as well and eliminate negativity. And you help them do that every day.

Getting started is the hard part but here’s a tool to help you do that.

Introducing The Bad News Eradicator

The Bad News Eradicator was designed to help eliminate defensive words and negative phrases from your speech, writing, decisions, and actions.

  1. Keep the Bad News Eradicator near you. [Click here to see the complete list of bad news eradicating phrases]
  2. Take it with you when you travel. 
  3. Collect your own set of habitual negative phrases and words to eradicate
  4. Add your negative habits to the eradicator sheet, then create their positive equivalents.
  5. Get a whole new life. Give a whole new life to others.

How to use the Bad News Eradicator

Examples of Bad News Eradication

Negative StatementPositive Change
1. “I can’t comment on what hasn’t happened.”1. “When it happens, I’ll comment.”
2. “I can’t speak for them.”2. “They can speak for themselves.”
3. “I don’t know.”3. “Here’s what I know…”
4. “I wouldn’t say that.”4. “What I would say is…”
5. “It didn’t happen that way.”5. “Here’s what happened.”
6. “It’s never been done before.6. “This is the first time.”
7. “It’s not too expensive.”7. “It’s affordable.”
8. “Let’s not kid ourselves.”8. “Let’s stay focused on what matters.”
9. “Nothing is impossible.”9. “Everything is possible.”
10. “Please don’t hesitate to ask.”10. “Please Ask.”
11. “That’s not a bad idea.”11. “That could be a good idea.”

We’ll publish more soon.

Click here if you’d like to receive all 189 negative language CHANGE examples.

Click here to read: Time to Eradicate Your Bad News.

Click here to read: Time to Eradicate Your Bad News Volume 2.

Click here to read: The Seven Corrosive Powers of Negative Language.

James E. Lukaszewski
Americas Crisis Guru®

ABC, Fellow IABC, APR, Fellow PRSA, BEPS Emeritus (2015) 

Mainstreet Village, 7601 Lyndale Ave S, STE 32, Richfield MN 

Jim’s Wisdom #37: Your Pocket Decency Manifesto

Starting Back Up The Path To Decency: a Manifesto

Why a manifesto?

Seven big reasons:

  1. To anticipate an answer to the most important questions for those interested in building a decency-based workplace culture, before they are asked.
  2. To trigger and answer in advance the crucial questions you need to see, hear, and resolve. They will be about developing decency, civility, and integrity in your workplace.
  3. To anticipate and answer in advance the questions that bother you most about what’s happening in our culture; the decency denial and deficit in America’s workplaces and in your workplace.
  4. To help you bring your personal views of decency, civility, and integrity from your personal life, family community, and home into your working life.
  5. To reveal the many pathways available to decency, civility, integrity, and trust.
  6. Learn to recognize and prevent the victimization indecency and incivility cause.
  7. Recognize and prevent leadership and management misbehaviors that trigger the incivility, and unconscionable behaviors that contaminate decent and civil culture.

The Pocket Decency Manifesto is your daily to-do list to inspire, to motivate, and to stimulate your energy and efforts in building a decency driven workplace. There are critical ingredients here designed to help you protect, defend, and preserve what you and others achieve along the path to a decency driven workplace.

Good luck.

1. The Nine Pillars Of A Decency Driven Workplace 

Candor: truth with an attitude delivered right now.  
Civility: patience, empathy, curiosity, tolerance. Small decencies. 
Ethics: seek ideal conduct, go the right way first, reject all alternatives and wrong ways. 
Humility: being humble; maintain modest opinion of one’s own importance or rank. 
Integrity: honest consideration and inclusion of other points of view. 
Openness: seeking and promptly addressing the concerns of others. 
Responsiveness: do it now, change it now, fix it now, stop it now, start it now. 
Reticence: resist the corrosiveness of negativity, criticism, and arrogance.  
Trust: Seek the absence of fear because fear is the absence of trust. 

2. The Three Most Powerful Civilities 

Listening: the greatest civility we can show another human being. 
Positivity: the only path to a successful future. All other routes lead only to trouble. 
Small Decencies: the principal ingredients of trust, respect, humility, acceptance, and greatness. 

3. The Most Crucial Ingredients Of A Decency Driven Workplace 

Obsession with civility, decency, humility, integrity, modesty, truth, and trust. 
Walk the talk: in every assembly, communication, conversation, document, event, meeting, proposal, and pitch.  
Immerse every idea, suggestion, attitude, and behavior in decency. 
Interpret everything in the context of civility, decency, integrity, trust, and truthfulness. 
Aggressively block, expose, and eliminate all barriers, interference, reluctance, and disparagement of decency, civility, and humility initiatives.  
Shun those who: belittle, demean, deny, denigrate, disparage, or espouse opposition to decency, civility, and truth. Your destiny is up to you to protect, defend, and preserve. 

James E. Lukaszewski

ABC, Fellow IABC, APR, Fellow PRSA, BEPS Emeritus (2015) 

James E. Lukaszewski is a well-known writer, author, teacher, scholar, and lecturer in American Public Relations. 
Mainstreet Village, 7601 Lyndale Ave S, STE 32, Richfield MN