In the private life those are the moments when something happens and we’re left speechless from shock. In the business world, it’s the crises that we don’t know how to react to. Both reactions are psychologically completely understandable, but they cause different reactions from the observer.
Silence is an important part of communication, both in private and business life. It is often positive; it gives us time to think and generate our answer in an appropriate manner. Like the proverb says – it’s better to be silent and be recognized as a fool, than talk and remove any doubt. Then why is silence (when it comes to companies) perceived so badly in the public? The main difference is the starting point. We can empathize with people who experienced shock, whereas with companies we can’t. For outsiders, companies are amorphous entities. Their estimation of the companies’ size and influence is often wrong. The company is even more often perceived as having bad principles because it’s founded to gain profit. Because of that, mistakes are not acceptable like they are when it comes to people. Therefore silence is not acceptable for a company.
The era of instant information
As recipients of information we are used to getting them instant, so it’s unbelievable that there are still some managers in business communication, who don’t feel the pressure to communicate when there’s a crisis, especially in companies which don’t employ professional communicators. What does urgency exactly mean? How fast must companies react? Here are two examples from everyday life which can maybe illustrate it best.
Were you on Facebook the last time there was an earthquake in your city? Maybe the ground didn’t even finish shaking when someone posted a status saying “Earthquake”? If you aren’t active on social media this may seem trivial. But think about the following. What would you do if you saw a big cloud of smoke above the west part of the city where you live? Your first step will probably be to go on some news portal, where you’ll look for information about what happened. The Internet and social media taught us that we can get information within a maximum of a few hours. Companies are not an exception; the system inertia is not an excuse for passing a few days before the announcement of reactions. What will happen if you stay silent in a crisis? Probably, a catastrophe in three steps.
The first reaction of the recipient is the presumption of guilt: “It really looks like they’ve done it.” The second, which comes really quick, is bitterness, which mostly comes from silence. “I buy their products and look at the way they’re acting. They didn’t even deign to say something”. (Interestingly, the critics at duty aren’t even consumers or buyers, but only “voices of the conscience” who enjoy the sense of righteous anger. These, although they seem less important, strongly stir up negative feelings in the silent majority.)
You can expect the third reaction the very next time a person is met with information related to the crises, but still doesn’t have any information about the crises from the company that’s experiencing it. “They still haven’t said anything. There is nothing for which I should think otherwise. It’s obvious they are guilty.”
When it comes to forming an opinion, it’s a big and hard job to change it. Therefore is important to react immediately, but the management of the company usually incorrectly estimates the idea of fast.
There is no time
The biggest problem of silence is that it’s usually not planned. A lot of companies that experience a communication crisis just don’t have the resources and knowledge to properly react in a timely manner, which the public expects. Because of the fear of causing more damage and the wish to act adequately they take the time they don’t have. Communications is a segment of business which drastically accelerated compared to the period from 10 years ago, this is difficult to understand for people that are not primarily concerned with communication, but they urgently need to understand.
A good manager, especially a member or the chairman of the board (in every sector) must know that a communication crisis is a moment which requires immediate actions. You can’t do it alone? Seek for help right away. Because silence has become the company’s unforgivable sin. The sin for which penance is paid as a percentage of revenue and profit.