Beyond the statement: Effective strategies for addressing critical incidents

In today's complex higher ed landscape, leaders face many expectations—to embody transparency, uphold organizational values, and prioritize the mental health and wellbeing of their students, faculty, and staff. Whether within the confines of the classroom, the campus, or amidst regional and global events, critical incidents pose pressure for an immediate call to action, often manifesting as email statements. Rather than hastily heeding the pressure to respond, take a moment to evaluate your options. 

Pause to consider the need for a message

While it is imperative to keep students, faculty, staff, and other stakeholders informed about an issue or incident, it is helpful to pause and remember that not every issue or incident warrants an immediate public response. After taking time to thoughtfully consider the need for a statement or message, you may determine that a broad message does not align with best practices. Still, silence can be damaging for leaders and the institution and erode student and employee trust and engagement. 

Alternatives to a written message

Specific outreach. Many situations or issues impact a specific group (e.g., individuals who attended an event, use a specific building or floor, or belong to an affinity group). Rather than sending a blanket email to a large group—some who may not have been involved or impacted—leaders and managers could schedule a small group check in either in person or via Zoom—to acknowledge the situation, relay updates, offer support and resources, and make space for listening, conversation, and feedback. 

High-quality check-ins. One-on-one check-ins allow individuals an opportunity to share their feelings and concerns in what is ideally an emotionally and psychologically safe environment. It is important to create this space by inviting the individual to freely share their experience, concerns, and thoughts, and respond with compassion and active listening. 

Established channels. Some situations don’t require an immediate response, yet are important to recognize. Consider already established communications channels such as newsletters or standing staff meetings. It can also be helpful to debrief a situation and provide updates about learnings and plans for responding to similar situations in the future.

Establishing other ways to express support and share information can alleviate the pressure for widely distributed written statements. Many employees feel most cared about when their leader or manager personally checks in and expresses care and concern for their individual experiences.

Additional resources