What to do when the news is bad



A little more than a year ago, a Muslim family in London, Ontario, was killed while out for a walk after dinner. The community was left reeling by this hate crime. And organizations, both local and beyond, were left trying to figure out what to do or say to be helpful. Some organizations we work with got it right. Others realized they needed to re-evaluate their response and how it impacted their teams as they worked to ensure their employees felt supported and acknowledged.


In a perfect world, we would never have to turn on the news and see another report about a hate-based crime or walk into an office and see a colleague on the verge of tears because her mosque or synagogue has been targeted and defaced.

In a perfect world we would not need to think about the implications of hate crimes on our communities. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that perfect world.


When the unthinkable happens, how we react can communicate a lot – and sometimes what we are communicating isn’t reflective of our good intentions. Sometimes we are so worried about saying the wrong thing, or stepping into a space where we don’t belong, or making situations worse that we don’t say anything at all. Unfortunately, that response is rarely helpful. So how should we react when the news is bad?


1. Start from a place of compassion.

The first thing to remember is that compassion in these circumstances is our goal and it is an excellent place to begin. Our collective expectation for how organizations respond to external crises is evolving. If a local, regional or national event has shaken our colleagues or our clients, set aside worries about what might be “right,” and begin with compassion.


2. Acknowledge the incident and its effect on the community internally first.

The first response must be to acknowledge what has occurred and check in with our teams. While public responses are admirable, they could ring hollow unless your team knows through both words and actions that you care more about them than the appearance of a public statement.


3. Remind team leaders to check in with their team members.

Give your leadership at all levels not only the permission but the resources and support to connect with their team members. Remember that the impacts of a crisis can be ongoing. Empower leaders to offer compassionate and meaningful support to the team.


4. Offer information about available support.

Communicate to staff and their families the supports options available through your Employee Assistance Program if you have one, or through the community. Consider whether there is a need for some internal counselling or support programs.


5. If there are local implications or if your staff is feeling unsafe, review and communicate security information and expectations for workplaces.

Consider what components of your business might need to be reviewed to ensure personal safety for all. Don’t do this work in a vacuum though. Remember to solicit feedback from affected groups to ensure any suggested amendments or additions are actually helpful. Be careful of your tone in the communications to ensure that comments are supportive and not construed as victim-blaming.

6. If you are considering issuing a public statement think first about what value that statement will contribute to the conversation.

Organizations can get themselves into trouble by issuing public statements especially if they don’t align with their corporate culture. A statement that feels inauthentic to your major stakeholders – your staff, your clients, your community – will do more harm than good to both the cause and your reputation. The voices which need to be centered are the ones who are most affected. Consider instead supporting and amplifying statements made by community leaders. If there is meaningful information for your customers or community that needs to be shared, acknowledge that in your statement as the reason for the communication.


7. Make a donation if you can.

This one comes with one huge caveat. Do NOT turn this into a public relations event. The point is to offer support within your community and not to score points. A donation to a community group battling Islamophobia or antisemitism, for example, or directly to an affected organization can go a long way to helping the community rebuild, feel safe and continue its important work.


8. Remember we are all struggling.

Incidences of violence are unsettling for us all even if we are not directly impacted. We may have friends, family or neighbours grieving. We may have children who are grappling with difficult questions. We may be wondering how to make meaningful personal contributions towards change. Workplaces which authentically acknowledge these realities, or better yet which can create space to connect with others around them are well on their way towards a compassionate response.


9. Keep the lines of communication open.

If you miss the mark, or you have missed it after previous events, acknowledge that your goal is to do better and then share your plan. Remember that it is a positive thing to seek input from affected colleagues and communities.