How to communicate in crisis

With the world sailing in unchartered territory, EA’s are facing the challenge of maintaining effective communication when tension and stress levels are at an all-time high, says Anthony Laye.

The world is in a state of turmoil which means that unless you adapt your approach to your daily communication, being an EA will not be easy for the next few months. I expect you have already found yourself shocked by peoples behaviour over the last few weeks, the Executive that you thought you could read, all of a sudden starts behaving in ways that are catching you off guard, colleagues you thought had life under control have started to crumble, the slightest thing seems to trigger people in what I am labelling ‘Covid Chaos’. 

Uncertainty causes people to react in peculiar ways, their quest to find some kind of security leads them to latch on to things that may seem irrational, your role as an EA is to become a beacon of security, to be that person who manages to keep it together when everyone else is falling apart. To do this effectively you need to be observant, aware of your surroundings and understand that people are acting in primitive ways. 

Understanding how to read people’s body language will help you gauge their emotional temperature so you can communicate more effectively, it will help you adjust your style to suit the current situation.

What follows are seven body language signals to look out for that will help you gauge peoples emotional temperature, these are classic signs of stress and anxiety.

  1. Tension in the face – Look for the jaw tightening and furrowing of the brow, this is a common sign of stress and anger.
  2. Squinting of the eyes – This is a classic sign of confusion or stress, it’s also really easy to notice with the amount of eye contact we make during a conversation.
  3. Compressed lips – People who are feeling angry will often press their lips tightly together, it is like they are attempting to stop themselves screaming in frustration.
  4. Clenched fists – People who are feeling anger and trying to contain it will clench their fists in a bid to keep it all in.
  5. Fast and shallow breathing – When people are stressed or anxious their breath changes to fast and shallow, this has a feedback effect making the person feel even more anxious.
  6. Fidgeting / Pacing – People who are feeling on edge will often start to fidget or pace, it’s their nerves energy trying to escape.
  7. Pacifiers – If you see someone rubbing their hands together, rubbing the back of their neck, or the side their face this is known as a pacifier. When we are stressed a message comes out from the brain saying ‘hey I’m stressed and need calming down’. By rubbing the skin (pacifying) we stimulate nerve endings which has a calming effect.

You might be thinking, okay I’ve noticed some signs of stress and anxiety how should I respond, allow me to introduce the N.U.T principle.

The N.U.T principle is a conversational diffusion technique used by hostage negotiators; it will take someone from chaos to calm very quickly, it stands for Name, Understand, Transform.

Step 1: Name

Listen to what is being said to identify the way they are feeling, you need to use their words back at them. If they say ‘I am finding this really frustrating’ you use the word frustrating e.g ‘I can see you are finding this really frustrating’. Using their words demonstrates you are listening.

Step 2: Understand

Demonstrate empathy about the situation – ‘I would feel frustrated if that was happening to me’. What’s important, is you allow them to vent, you will find they keep stacking with phrases like – ‘and what’s really irritating is…’ – imagine they are like a balloon letting out air, and remember to use their words back at them.

Step 3: Transform

Once they have finished deflating the balloon of stress it’s time to move them forward – ‘so how can we move forward, how can we make this better?’

This simple conversational process is like a Jedi mind trick, it will interrupt their self-sabotaging inner dialogue and guide them towards a resolution.

Anthony Laye works with entrepreneurs, professionals and executives who want to amplify their speaking and communication skills, so they can stand out, win trust and influence.