We all need information. It’s how we learn. It’s how we make decisions and choices.

Sometimes information is clear and obvious. Sometimes information is wrong. Sometimes information is not available. Sometimes other people have information that we don’t.

When an incident occurs in your organisation it can take time to get to the facts. Each of the above statements may apply and the effect is that responses can be delayed or worse still, can be wrong. This makes the life of incident managers and crisis management teams more challenging.

I refer to this in my training sessions as the ‘communication dichotomy’. The principle is based on basic economics, demand and supply. When an incident occurs the demand for information is at it’s highest – everyone wants to know what’s happened and are impatient for the facts.

Conversely the supply of reliable, validated and factual information is at it’s lowest and takes time to be obtained. There is inevitably, therefore, a delay until accurate facts and robust decisions can be communicated.

In the meantime the void is filled with speculation, rumours and assumptions. To add to the problem all of these are moving around between your people via mobile devices, electronic communications and social media. Any delay risks this uncontrolled and superfast media racing out of control. Regaining the initiative can be hard.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time travelling on trains recently and a couple of points related to this theme have been apparent. The information given out in a busy station is incessant. Which train is at which platform, when to board, which tickets are valid, whether you can take a bike on board, where the buffet car is, don’t leave items unattended, get ready for the Olympics and so on!

Once you are on the train you get more announcements but have you noticed what happens if the train stops between stations? The train manager is usually quick to report over the tannoy system why the train has stopped. If it’s in the middle of nowhere the manager may simply reassure the passengers that ‘we are held at a red signal, as soon as I have more information I will get back to you’.  This small statement goes a long way. It acknowledges that there is a problem, appreciates that people want to know why and for how long and assures them that the problem is being investigated and confirms that they will report back. Provided the train manager follows up the original message within a reasonable time I’m happy to continue reading my paper or pop along to grab a coffee. No stress.

If on the other hand there was no message passengers would soon go and find the manager and remind him just how much their season tickets cost. Lots of stress!

Communication is the biggest challenge faced by Crisis Management teams so be aware of the communication dichotomy and make sure you seize the initiative.

This is a big theme so check in again next week as I may well return to this topic.