Libraries and the Internet Toolkit: Crisis Communication
A few simple communication techniques can go a long way in reducing emotions and preventing misunderstandings during crisis situations. Make sure your library staff is trained in procedures for handling complaints and that they understand the importance of treating all people with respect. The goal is to resolve complaints informally whenever possible. The best way to deal with tough questions from library users, board members, government officials or a reporter is to be prepared. Following are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Listen; don't judge.
- Anticipate questions you might be asked and practice answering them.
- Create a 20- to 30-second statement that will consistently convey your message clearly and concisely.
- Acknowledge the other person’s opinions: "You obviously have strong feelings. I respect your views. Let me give you another perspective."
- Reframe a question such as “Why do you think students should be allowed to view pornography on the Internet?" to "You're asking me about our Internet policy. . ."
- Remain professional, calm and objective in your interactions.
- Remain available to address concerns. Be accessible, BUT take the time to collect your thoughts and to verify facts before responding. Even reporters with a short deadline will respect your position to “pull out that information and confirm the facts.” However, make sure you get back to them within an established time frame.
- Be honest and objective with the media or those who report any odd activity.
- Have an Internet use policy; KNOW and USE it.
- Discuss Internet safety for children and parents.
- Remember, it's not just what you say but how you say it.
- Speak simply, sincerely and with conviction.
- Less is more. Keep your answers short and to the point.
- Stick to your key message. Deliver it at least three times.
- Avoid use of negative or inflammatory words such as "pornography."
- Never say "No comment." A simple "I'm sorry I can't answer that" is preferable.
- Don't fudge. If you don't know the answer, say so.
- Maintain confidentiality of library records.
- Determine your personal commitment to intellectual freedom.
- Seek assistance, as appropriate, AND receive it graciously, even if you think it is not necessary.
- Train your library staff and keep them aware of the situation.