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A communications trifecta for the COVID era


The text came in from my daughter, Ally (all the way from across the room…) a few minutes before midnight.

It was the night before Good Friday, and she was sharing a communication she’d just received from her 11th grade biology teacher.  It culminated the first week of “distance learning” that most school boards are now deploying amidst COVID-19.

The communication was in the form of a long letter – and it was so good, I read it twice.  When I was finally done, I said, “You’re lucky to have her as a teacher.”  Ally:  Yep, I wish they were all like her.

So what made this teacher’s letter so impactful?

Three things, I believe:

  1. Leading with facts.   The teacher (let’s call her Mrs. Q) led with what she knew vs. what she didn’t.  She shared that three hours of biology work would be expected of Ally each week, that online learning would continue indefinitely (likely through the end of term), and that there would no final exams.  She clearly spelled out how assignments would work.  And she also said she didn’t know if the school year would be extended into summer.  All facts focused on the here and now, not hypotheticals.  They grounded the communication, gave it a solid foundation.  Facts offer credibility.
  2. Next, identifying possibles. Mrs. Q turned her attention away from what wasn’t happening, and emphasized what could.  For example:  “We all want to know the plan and the timeline, but nothing’s certain, so what we can do is be flexible and patient.”  She said students wouldn’t be learning the normal material this term – and that’s okay.  The priority wouldn’t be prepping students for the next school year… but rather helping them learn something this year, and making the best of the circumstances.  Mrs. Q focused on what was possible instead of what wasn’t.  Possibilities offer hope.
  3. Finally, sharing emotions. Mrs. Q let her guard down.  She showed her vulnerability, and asked her students for the same.  She wanted to know how they were feeling.  She admitted she was struggling in not having all the answers.  “Some days my anxiety gets the best of me, but then I get down to work.”  Mrs. Q was real, human.  As Mark Twain famously said, “The best thing about telling the truth is you never have to think about what to say.”  Emotions offer humanity.

The bottom line?  The letter made Mrs. Q’s students feel better about what’s going on.  I wish all my teachers were like her.

A few days earlier I’d seen this candid video of a frontline doctor in New York City during the peak of COVID.  The clip has since gone viral, and it’s long, but if you watch even a tiny slice of it, you’ll witness a great example of how to communicate in a crisis.  Like Mrs. Q, Dr. David Price hits the trifecta of facts (what he knows to be true), possibilities (what could be), and emotions (how he’s feeling, and how he wants us to feel).  Three powerful ingredients.

Should things be any different for how we communicate with those we serve?  Especially during these challenging times, this new normal – when credibility and hope and humanity are what people are craving?

If a high school biology teacher and a Manhattan doctor on the front lines of COVID can do it, why can’t we?

We can.

And we must.

So ask yourself about your own message during these times:

  1. Are you leading with facts?
  2. Are you identifying the possibles?
  3. Are you being real, human?

~ Craig