Communicating in a Crisis

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The page below is a sample from the LabCE course Communication Basics for Laboratory Leaders. Access the complete course and earn ASCLS P.A.C.E.-approved continuing education credits by subscribing online.

Learn more about Communication Basics for Laboratory Leaders (online CE course)
Communicating in a Crisis

Considering the state of things at the time in which this course was developed, it is important to highlight that communicating in every day scenarios is different than communicating in an emergent/crisis scenario.
A crisis or emergency situation may be short term or long term. For example a weather emergency such as a hurricane is expected to be short term, whereas the COVID19 pandemic has proven to be long term. In these situations, normal operations are disrupted and multiple variables are introduced which require a faster pace and quicker decisions. In a crisis it is important for leaders to be flexible and adaptable and not forget to look to their employees as valuable resources.
Although laboratories have regulatory requirements to have emergency management standard operating procedures in place addressing areas such as maintaining IT infrastructure, blood supply, staffing, inventory, and continuity of operations for disasters and emergencies, it is difficult to plan for every scenario. There can, however, be a basic infrastructure for how to continue operations during any crisis and how to communicate effectively.
During a crisis, it is important to centralize communication and have main sources of information. A common practice is to establish a command center or a specific crisis leadership team comprised of representatives from all necessary sections. All communication will be to and from the command center or leadership team to ensure information is accurate and issues are being addressed. Having silos of communication introduces risks of miscommunication including wrong information being disseminated and information not being delivered to everyone.
Communication in a crisis must be authentic communication. Communication must be early and often, transparent and honest, and approached with empathy. It is important to be sincere and factual, even if one does not have all the answers. During a crisis it is better to err on the side of overcommunicating than not communicating enough. Information should be clear and delivered in manageable amounts. If too much information is delivered at once, the importance of the message will be lost.
During a crisis, leaders need to provide support and trust. They need to communicate with the employees doing the day to day operations to find out what resources they need and what concerns they have.