On Thursday, June 23, a majority of voters in the UK voted for the country to leave the European Union. No EU member has exited the union before, least of all a major economy and financial center such as the UK, so no one really knows what the effects of the so-called “Brexit” (British exit) will be. But governments, economists, investors, major businesses, and financial institutions have predicted that the economic impact could be profound, with significant reduction in commercial activity between the UK and the EU and shifts in currency markets.
For many, the outcome of the Brexit referendum was unexpected and is creating newfound uncertainty among potentially affected workers. At this moment, communicators need to help their organizations’ employees make sense of this complex event and navigate a deeply uncertain environment.
Psychological research on stress tells us that when we encounter an unexpected change we immediately make two assessments:
- How much of a threat is this change to me personally?
- What resources can I bring to bear to cope with it?
We then weigh the perceived threat level and our ability to cope, arriving at a net feeling or view. If the threat exceeds our capability, we view the situation as too daunting and withdraw into ourselves. But if we believe there are things we can do to reduce the threat, we see the same situation as a challenge to be managed.
The lesson for communicators is to help our employees stay focused on what they can control – even, or especially, when the ground is shifting under their feet. Here are some general principles on how to do it:
- Keep your message simple and be open and honest in your communication. This is a good example of open and honest communication, albeit under a different circumstance, from Best Buy (pdf).
- Focus your message on building self-confidence and prompting information seeking. Use our Change Messaging Tool (pdf) to make sure that your message is likely to build employees’ sense of control.
- Plan to serialize your communications as more information becomes available. Learn how to break large messages into chapters and communicate them to different audiences (pdf).
- Outline anticipated challenges and questions (pdf) and begin to brainstorm solutions.
What have you done so far to start conversations at your organization? And what would you like to know from your peers? Join our LinkedIn discussion to take part in the live conversation.