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Top 5 tips on communicating through a crisis

In the current crisis, Tom Ahmad, ICAEW Croydon President and licensed insolvency practitioner urges members to focus on the importance of clear and sensitive communication.

Tom Ahmad

May 2020

At the time of writing, it’s almost May and life after lock-down is starting to feel, certainly not normal, but something I am getting used to. No doubt recovery from the impact of the pandemic will take time and many gradual steps to unwind, both practically, but also emotionally – especially where the impact has been acute on yourself or ones close to you. 

So where am I going with all this? Well, what has become clear to me is that as we move forward, many of us will face the reality that is far from what we had planned, been promised, assured of or just assumed would happen (as it has always done in the past). However logical we like to think we are, when faced with uncertainty and the prospect of not getting what we expected, our instinctive reaction will almost certainly involve a disproportionate combination of worry, fear and possibly anger. And whilst logic, empathy and a sense of calm generally follow,  this will take a little time for some. 

As a licensed insolvency practitioner, over the last 20 years I have worked with thousands of businesses and individuals, either directly or indirectly, affected by financial failure. I can say with confidence that one of the single biggest factors in a successful recovery or restart strategy is how well communication is managed with affected stakeholders, whose thoughts and actions may well be dominated by worry, fear and potentially anger.   

 A good communication strategy is largely common sense

The truth is that a good communication strategy is largely common sense and based on the simple but powerful act of putting yourselves in the other person’s shoes. Considering their likely state of mind and what is important to them, especially when delivering bad news.

Top 5 tips:

  1. Keep messages simple and sincere. Remember – it is hard to digest a lot of information when stress levels are high. 
  2. It’s very important to communicate early, even if you don’t have all the answers. It will reassure the person you are dealing with that they are important and haven’t been forgotten.
  3. Don’t ignore attempts from others to communicate with you. This will build worry and frustration which will not help down the line. It can also be a great opportunity to fully understand their concerns and potentially flexibility
  4. If you agree timescales to report back, make sure you stick to it. Don’t break promises. 
  5. And if things change, communicate early.   

Try not to take initial negative responses personally. We are all human and ultimately some people may not react well in the moment. You can only control what you can control and, in my experience, when emotions subside, most people will reflect with calmer heads and will come on board down the line. They just may need time.  

If it all seems too much, then it’s important for business owners to ask for help. The earlier they engage with their accountant and/or a specialist insolvency practitioner, the better. Having someone independent who has experience in formulating and communicating business recovery strategies will not only make things easier, it will maximise the chance of success.  

Finally, this crisis is something that has affected us all. I am heartened by the flexibility and understanding offered by those I have so far spoken with in my day job as an insolvency practitioner. I am hopeful that this will continue in the months to come.  

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