While extreme views are often the source of a crisis, leading an organisation back from disaster to ‘business as usual’ can be extra challenging when your own views and beliefs are at odds with the client or organisation you are representing.
In a world where the line between conscientious objection and discrimination is wafer thin — and, social media manufactures outrage at warp speed — keeping your integrity and professionalism intact is paramount when facing a conflict of conscience during a crisis.
Here are 7 ways to cultivate resilience and crisis professionalism to remain objective during crises that challenge your personal values and beliefs:
1. Know your personal biases’ — which way does your moral and ethical compass point?
Key to our individual identity is our set of beliefs that shape who we are, how we behave and what defines the limits of our comfort zone. These biases are the result of a range of societal influences; from our upbringings, religious views (or absence thereof), cultural norms and even the media we consume.
While these biases make us unique, they also contribute to the way we process information and make professional recommendations.
Crisis communicators must cultivate a robust self-awareness of how their own biases can impact the advice they provide. Taking the emotion out of a press release, social media response or set of talking points isn’t enough: you must aim for personal impartiality and consistently self-assess how your own views are or could influence your work.
2. Understand the depths of your own biases and beliefs
Some people hold views that will never be changed. Others, when presented with new facts or a different perspective, find that they are able to change their mind on issues they previously considered absolute.
When presented with new facts or a compelling rationale — expect your point of view to be challenged. This will often create a natural ‘fight or flight’ response in which you begin to consider the logic of the information you’ve received. Sometimes your view will remain unchanged. That consideration space, however, is not billable time — so leave those thoughts percolating while focusing on the task at hand.
This is an easy point of distraction for crisis communicators — both the changing of a viewpoint and absolute rejection of new information can significantly challenge your worldview.
What happens, however, is that this moment personally internalises the crisis instead of managing your client or organisations. In organisations where beliefs and views are shared, this can cripple a communications team at critical junctures in the crisis communications trajectory.
The key to processing these instances of cognitive confusion is to keep an open mind: you may be right, but you may also be wrong. Now is the time for facts, not spinning elaborate fictions.
3. Understand that your beliefs are a choice
You choose what to believe and what values you hold important.
You can also choose to change those beliefs and values at any time.
The thing about choice is, that once made people are shy of making changes to those views for fear of embarrassment. However, during a crisis, the embarrassment of admitting you were wrong holds far less risk than the embarrassment of continuing to spin fiction in the face of facts.
How long your crisis lasts will inevitably depend on the choices you make, stick to or defend.
4. The line between conscientious objection and discrimination is wafer thin
When Australia voted ‘Yes’ to marriage equality in mid-November 2017, the debate quickly turned to conscientious objectors. Could devout Christians who are professional wedding cake bakers refuse to bake a cake celebrating a gay wedding? Could wedding reception businesses refuse to take the booking of a gay couple? Could civil celebrants refuse to marry same-sex couples?
While the law in these particular matters is yet to be fully tested, laws protecting human rights and discrimination remain in full force.
If your organisation or clients views are extreme, and they intend to continue exercise their right to hold and espouse those views — impartial legal advice pertaining to the conduct of their business and any conscientious objections arising should be sought at the earliest opportunity.
Legal advice won’t preclude any episodic instances of resulting bad PR, but they will ensure you are not breaking the law.
5. Remedy conflicts of interest before they occur
To avoid significant situations of conscientious objection or clashes with your personal values or beliefs: avoid working with clients or in workplaces where these situations are likely to occur.
It’s pretty simple: don’t take a job (or client) if you have a moral objection to the way they conduct their business or you oppose the products or services they sell.
This may sound harsh, but it’s better not to enter into a situation rather than trying to extract yourself from it down the track. Your client or organisation has the right to be able to depend on you when a crisis occurs.
6. Understand that a crisis isn’t an opportunity to influence change
A crisis is never a ‘I told you so’ moment.
Never use a crisis as leverage to attempt to change the culture, beliefs or values of a client or organisation.
Losing your objectivity in favour of being right or persuading others to your standpoint is not how you win at crisis communications.
If your organisation or client comes to the voluntary conclusion that they must change their views and beliefs — great! If not, trying to persuade a client or organisation they are wrong by pointing out their idiocy on an issue never results in a genuine change of heart. Fake changes of heart are akin to spin – avoid them at all costs.
7. Always act with your client or organisation’s best interests in mind
While this seems obvious, navigating your way through a crisis that challenges your core beliefs isn’t an easy task.
Your number one priority must remain on your client or organisation and the response they want to provide. Don’t argue with their position, just shape those communications into the best possible outcome for their situation.