Are you an “expert” crisis counselor?

Recently, I guest lectured at UNC Charlotte, where the students continue to ask great questions, including:  “At what point in your career do you know you’re a crisis management expert?  When you know that your counsel is right?”

My stock answer: “I don’t have all the answers, but I’m pretty confident that I’ll make a good case for my counsel and that I’ll ask all the right questions.  That’s why I can say I’m an expert.”

Allow me to expand on that:

I don’t think any experienced crisis counselor can suggest they have all the answers to every situation.  There are too many judgment calls that need to be made, based only on information that is available at any given time.  The best of the best can be fairly confident that they’re providing the best possible counsel.  That doesn’t mean the counsel is always right.

From my experience, there are plenty of times when a client will only partially embrace my counsel…and in most of those cases, things have turned out okay.  There are also some cases when my counsel is completely ignored…and some (less, but some) of those situations have had decent results, too.  There aren’t silver bullets here.

I do think it takes a fair amount of expertise to persuade a client toward your point-of-view, however.  If a client is being hesitant or recalcitrant, I’ll often paint pictures of the consequences with and without the recommended actions.  Sometimes, it takes a bit of Socratic-method style questioning and logic to help build agreement and consensus around your POV. 

An “expert” will also be open to fresh ideas.  Candidly,I don’t always agree with my two most-senior colleagues of the Ketchum Issues & Crisis Management Specialty Team.  And that’s okay.  When we debate amongst ourselves, it usually results in stronger, more holistic counsel for our clients.   

Finally, you do have to be comfortable and confident in knowing the right questions to ask when providing support for a crisis situation.  Judging from the quality of questions I get out of the UNC Charlotte students…they’re off to a great start!

Do you have anything to add or any questions on “expert” crisis counseling?  Please share, below.

6 thoughts on “Are you an “expert” crisis counselor?”

  1. Thanks for your thoughts on this. Yep, clients don't always take my advice, and in some cases, this have proved a difficult road for them. But, as you say, there's no perfect answer for every situation. It seems like the overarching theme in a crisis is to keep communications open, honest and ready. The media does not take kindly to those who don't respond, whatever the reason.

    1. Thanks, Nancy. I agree with open, honest and ready most times. Yet — I can think of occaisions when a client can't be completely open or proactive. For example, if a suspect is at large. Or if a big computer hacking situation requires the investigative team to conduct its work without tipping off the hackers that they're being watched. Et cetera.

  2. I don't know that there's any such thing as an "expert" anymore. Sure, there are some in the industry who've been managing communications crises for decades, but social media have changed the rules. Communicators no longer have a head start on the general public, are in many cases are still trying to gather all of the facts while false reports and speculation have already been accepted as "the truth" by a large segment of the population. The tenets of good crisis communications haven't really changed, but we're in the age of cell phone cameras, erroneous tweets and "it's-better-to-be-first-than-to-be-accurate" mainstream media. It's enough to make your head spin.

    1. It's certainly a more challenging battlefield, nationranch. However, I do think there are some expert philosophies and systems that work well. All is not lost on managing viral/networked situations. Not yet, at least. Thanks for participating.

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