Critical Takeaways

  • Communicators do not have the luxury of being “over it.” We have to figure out what to say next.
  • Learn to surf when you are stuck in crashing waves.
  • Ask three questions to help create a bigger future. 

In the spirit of being real, let’s just start here: everyone is just over it. COVID-19 is a drag.

I’ve noticed it with our clients, in our team. I can hear it in the voices of people I’ve spoken to lately. It’s just a tough situation, tough on everybody. There’s grief, loss, and confusion, but the information just keeps coming and the need to explain nuances is greater than ever.

We have spent the past two months plus living in the COVID-19 pandemic. As it turns out, March 11 proved to be a national inflection point. Within the span of a few hours on that day, our world and our worldview changed. The World Health Organization declared COVID-10 a global pandemic. The Dow began its bearish descent, falling 1,465 points. The National Collegiate Athletic Association announced it would play its annual basketball championship tournaments without fans. Then the National Basketball Association announced it was suspending all operations. Actor Tom Hanks and his wife Rita posted their COVID-19 diagnoses on Instagram. 

I found this Wired article, “An Oral History of the Day Everything Changed,” to be particularly fascinating as a way to memorialize the event of that day. I highlight this because it is critical as strategic communicators we have the ability to see around corners. The past is prologue, and I suggest you read the Wired article with an eye towards these questions: Did I see this coming? Could I have? What can we learn from this? 

Even as we yearn to get back to normal, our immediate goal is to get back to something. The ambiguity in that “something” can be paralyzing. We’ve got a number of clients that are working through the challenges of reopening – a complex web of hows and whens and whos – while struggling to find the right signals they need to feel confident about getting to something. 

As communicators, we don’t have the luxury of being over it. We have the responsibility of communicating what our organizations are doing to the audiences that matter, and they are craving that information. We simply do not have a choice. We have got to figure out what to do and say next, both to our internal audiences and our external ones.

Learning to Surf

Think about being on the beach beside the ocean. A wave crashes ashore, followed by another, then another. On and on they come. Now picture yourself in that ocean. Wave after wave comes, pounding you as they pass. “You can’t stop the waves, but can learn to surf.” That’s how Jon Kabat-Zinn, a now retired physician and university professor, describes mindfulness to manage stress and anxiety.

And so that’s what we need to do. We all need to learn to surf and figure out how to continue to communicate – Always Be Communicating – and say the hard things that need to be said or convey the complexity of an extraordinary situation to a weary audience, and then figure out how to communicate in both strategic and smart ways.

I have been using the following tool to think about our clients and how we can help them come out (come back) better and stronger than before. What kept working from the past, what new hacks or shortcuts are working now, and what needs to change as you get to a new normal. I believe it is important that we acknowledge what a bigger future needs to look like.  

Take out a sheet of paper and list tactics, partners, workflow processes, meeting/calls, team members, and activities that fit these three categories: 

  • Old Normal
    • Identify three ways of working worth keeping from the “old normal” before this period of COVID times began.
  • COVID Times 
    • Identify three current ways of working worth keeping that have emerged during this period of COVID times.
  • New Normal 
    • Identify three new ways of working you want to keep when the new normal period starts.

For each way of working in all three categories – you should have 9 total – ask WHY? 

  • Why did that way survive the COVID craziness? 
  • Why did these current or adapted ways of working show up? 
  • Why will this new way work going forward? 

At the end of this quick exercise, you should be able to see some ways of working so that you can “surf the ways” and find a path forward even though we are all over it. 

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