Thought Leaders Guide to Crisis Management

Business leader standing in a boardroom

Leadership can be easy when staff is engaged, deadlines are being met and the bank account is growing. But every office leader will face difficult situations that can disrupt the workflow. How you manage these difficult situations affects more than your reputation. The wrong tactics can destroy morale and seriously disrupt productivity.

Our guide covers:

  1. Managing Workplace Strifes with Grace
  2. Behaviors or Actions to Avoid
  3. How to Stay Ahead of a Crisis
  4. Communication Tips That Protect Reputation
  5. Emotionally Charged Words and Phrases to Avoid

1. Managing Workplace Strifes with Grace

Here’s how to handle some common work struggles with diplomacy, respect, and a positive attitude.

Pessimistic or overly critical employees 

Emphasize the positive. Try saying, “I need your help. We’re behind on this project, and I know that everyone is more productive when morale is up. So let’s stay focused on all the good work we’re doing. I can’t do this without you.”

A security breach or other crisis situation 

Never respond with “No comment.” Be proactive, not defensive. Say, “We are gathering facts so we fully understand what has happened (or what needs to happen). We will communicate more as soon as we can.”

An employee not being selected for a project they wanted

Call once a decision has been made. Say, “We’ve decided not to move forward, and here’s why.” You don’t have to divulge every detail behind your decision, but they’ll feel better if they get at least one reason. Don’t leave people guessing.

Team members who don’t want to share negative feedback or updates 

Let them know that you value all of their feedback. Say, “I like it when you share good news with me. But if you see problems brewing, please tell me about them as soon as possible. It will help all of us.”

A change in strategy or direction mid-project

Instead of laying blame, focus on the facts. Try saying, “Here’s what’s at risk if we proceed.” Then follow up with a solution.

A personal attack on your company or character 

Don’t allow yourself to be victimized in the name of niceness and certainly not in the name of perception. Walk away, get off the call or end the email chain as quickly as possible. By disengaging, you demonstrate professionalism and self-respect. A simple “I don’t feel that’s an accurate remark” will acknowledge your disapproval of the remark.

Skeletons in your closet 

Pronounce your turnaround publicly: “Eight years ago, a health issue prompted us to make a difficult financial decision, one that we never anticipated having to make:  bankruptcy. While I cannot say I’m happy that it happened — it was hard on our employees and their families, and I will always regret that — I can tell you the experience, while trying, served as a great lesson in how to manage a business in a worst-case scenario environment. I’m thrilled to report that as a result, we have built a new business that’s not only debt-free but also operating with a surplus.”

2. Behaviors or Actions to Avoid as a Leader

To make sure you’re seen as a leader with winning ways, avoid these mistakes:

  1. Habitually canceling or rescheduling 1:1s with team members
  2. Texting or emailing in meetings or while talking to someone
  3. Resorting to crude or foul language
  4. Not acknowledging receipt of an email from an employee when asked to provide a report, PPT slide, or answer to a question

We’re all human. It’s okay to slip up once in a while. But don’t resort to a devil-may-care attitude about how you act toward others.

Make no mistake about it: Your team is far more likely to help you achieve goals if you work at being a leader worthy of admiration and trust.

3. How to Stay Ahead of a Crisis

The simplest way to manage crisis situations is to take proactive actions, such as:

  • Don’t get caught wondering if a situation is a crisis or not and hoping it will go away.
  • Hire a crisis communications expert who is available 24/7 and can counsel on the spot. 
  • Be aware that there is no such thing as “off the record.”
  • Don’t speak in clichés (i.e., “shoot from the hip,” “nail this one”).
  • Never manage a crisis over the phone. Travel to the heart of the crisis, if necessary.  
  • Remember, there are two sides to every story. Train yourself on how to tell your opponent’s side of the story and have a retort ready.
  • Don’t let your tone of voice expose emotion. Always use a downward inflection of your voice, as if making a statement, rather than an upward (insecure) inflection as if asking a question.
  • Never dip below neutral. Stay positive or neutral in all your statements and conversations. 
  • When dealing with reluctant executives, put together examples of when other people have failed in trying to keep things under wraps.

4. Communication Tips That Protect Reputation

Inconsiderate communication can prevent you from reaching your career goals. The most trusted and respected leaders always speak favorably about themselves and others. Here’s how to keep your reputation spotless.

Never Bad Mouth An Employee or Colleague 

There’s no such thing as “off the record.” Cast everyone in as favorable a light as possible. You’ll demonstrate diplomacy and integrity. Plus, you will encourage similar behavior, which promotes a healthier, more productive workplace. 

Speak The Truth, But Do It Considerately and Objectively 

There are always two sides to the story. If you omit your opponent’s point of view, you make him or her the underdog which could damage your credibility. Listeners almost always align their sympathies with an underdog.

Know How To Accept a Compliment

Simply say, “Thank you. I appreciate the compliment.” 

Don’t Say Anything That Would Damage a Person’s Morale or Self-worth 

Always assume the person you’re talking about is in the conversation with you or that they will hear you. That way you’ll naturally be more diplomatic. So, a comment such as “He’s completely incompetent” becomes “I have concerns about his performance.”

Don’t Beat Yourself Up 

If you fall short of your target, deliver the bad news to your worst critic — you — in the best possible way. Tell yourself that it’s harder to set a new goal and stick with it than it is to achieve the original challenge.

Think Twice About Slashing Prices 

When a client fails to jump at an offer, we immediately assume it’s because of cost. A sheepish note from you about other, more affordable options won’t enhance your credibility. It diminishes it. If you call your value into question, why shouldn’t your client? 

5. Emotionally Charged Words and Phrases to Avoid 

Avoid emotionally charged words and phrases. They can trigger negative emotions in your reader and cause them to shut down. 

Charged words to avoid: 

  • Ax to grind
  • Ramifications
  • Inferior
  • Irritated
  • Shocking
  • Hate
  • In the hot seat
  • Stupid
  • Failure
  • Rude
  • Disappointment
  • Demand

6. How to Deliver Bad News in a Positive Way

Below is an example of how to deliver bad or difficult news in a respective way. This approach is clear yet considerate of the other party. This example of someone being let go can be repurposed for other scenarios. 

I wish I was reaching out with different news. [THE PREPARE STATEMENT]

I am ending your contract with ABC Company, effective June 1, 2021. [RIP THE BANDAID]

Until then, you will be paid as expected. [APPLY MEDICINE]

I understand this is hard to hear, and I wish I was sharing different news.


Because your role as a <<insert title>> is to solve highly technical business issues, I have been monitoring your capabilities, and while your follow-through and professionalism are impeccable, your technical skills need to be higher to succeed in this role.  

Again, you’ll be paid through June 1, 2021, so we’ll have plenty of time to talk about how to transition your work. 

I can answer any questions you have now or give you some time to process. Which would you prefer? 


Examples include missing steps on a task after receiving instructions, misunderstanding where files are stored, and not recognizing quickly enough which programs are used in certain procedures.  

Crisis Management Consultant Services

Working with Melissa as your crisis management consultant is a training and coaching opportunity that builds a proactive reputation and crisis management strategy. It will help you communicate authentically to a variety of different audiences, prevent and respond to a crisis and help you gain practical skills for overall communication in the workplace. 

Reach out today about our Crisis Management services!

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