More than ever, this is the time to over-communicate! Stress and anxiety are high, and everyone one of us has fears about the future. Making matters worse, many of us have more idle time than ever, so our minds get locked into spending hours considering worst-case scenarios over and over again.
We are all struggling. I have yet to speak to an organization that is not making difficult decisions concerning finances, staff, and programming. While there are many questions we cannot currently answer, we can do some things that will reduce the stress and anxiety among our stakeholders.
The human mind loves consistency, familiarity, and order. Uncertainty and disorder take us into our survival mind, and our survival mind loves to anchor us in mental pictures representing the worst possible version of things. If there is a chance of something happened, the amygdala (survival) part of our brain will be sure to make it seem like its inevitable and many times worst than what is likely.
One of the best ways to counter uncertainty in these difficult times is to make every effort to communicate with all of your stakeholders as much as possible. When I say stakeholders, I’m referring to everyone with an interest in your museum, including staff, donors, volunteers, supporters, and even vendors.
Employees are your most important constituency. Your employees are worried if they are going to have a job, and it’s particularly challenging to have meaningful conversations with them if they are working from home or furloughed. This said, it’s more important than ever to make every effort. Have weekly zoom calls followed by smaller group or one-on-one meetings. If you notice uncertainty from a specific employee in a group discussion, make sure you get on a phone call with them. This is not the time for miscommunication. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have complete information. No one has complete information right now. Be honest about what you know and make sure your team understands that you are in this together, and you are doing everything you can to navigate the team through this difficult time.
Volunteers are an essential group that we sometimes assume know more than they do about how the COVID-19 epidemic is affecting the museum. If you don’t yet have a date that you can open, make sure you articulate that to the volunteers. You may think, ‘they are keeping up with the news, they know,’ but this is not always the case. Many people don’t follow the news closely. Some volunteers may not even have internet or cable TV access. Also, when you communicate with volunteers, show them that you care. Ask them how you can help them get through this tough time.
All of your donors and supporters need regular updates by email and social media. Some should get special attention. I recommend calling your significant donors individually and asking how they are doing. At a minimum, your updates should include information on exhibit and program changes. I also recommend giving your supporters your personal contact information. Even if this is not private information, having a number and email address to get in touch with you directly will give people peace of mind.
Vendors need to know when they are going to get paid. Instead of avoiding them, call them and let them know where things stand. I have had multiple vendors give me extra time I didn’t even ask for because I called. Uncertainty is worse than uncomfortable conversations.
Lastly, make sure you reply to all inquiry emails and phone calls daily. If inquiries go unanswered for days, it adds to people’s anxiety. Even if you can’t answer their specific question, contact them, and let them know you received their inquiry.
Keep in mind that people deal with stress in different ways, and each one of us is dealing with a unique personal reality. You are going to have some people speak to you with aggressive tones. Take a deep breath and remain calm and positive. These types of reactions are a product of stress.
During the COVID-19 epidemic, you can’t over-communicate. Anything you can do to lower uncertainty will give people peace-of-mind during a difficult time.
Article by Frank Bennett, originally published at www.WorldClassMuseum.com
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