Hartford Business Journal

March 8, 2021

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Page 34 of 35

HartfordBusiness.com | March 8, 2021 | Hartford Business Journal 35 By Andrea Obston T he pandemic has made us hungry for news — good news. For almost a year, we've been obsessed with positivity rates, hospitalization rates and death rates. This constant barrage of statistics has gotten so overwhelming that most of us have tuned them out in favor of a mantra that says "It's too big. It's too overwhelming. I can't take it anymore." They tune out. They gravitate to misinformation or find comfort in conspiracy theories. So, when news of the vaccines started emerging, we found ourselves looking for the good numbers — like efficacy rates, vaccination rates and the number of shots delivered into arms. For communications to customers, many companies want desperately to emphasize the second set of numbers; to deliver good news for a change; to focus on anything that looks like the path back to "normal." We're all sick and tired of delivering messages that make our customers sick and tired. So how do we balance the need to deliver good news with the need to provide quality information? How do marketers find ways to rebuild trust with a battered and skeptical public? I recently got some inspiration from an article aimed at medical researchers called "Five Rules for Evidence Communication." A snooze-worthy title, I know, but there are some real gems in here for companies, professional communicators and the experts they work with who have an obligation to provide useful content in the age of COVID. Here's what that article says about delivering fair, balanced and useful information in times of crisis: Say what you know — Resist the urge to make the numbers sound better than they are. Yes, we're all looking for something positive, but fudging on the numbers, in the end, does no one any good. Say what you don't know — It's okay if the experts admit that they don't have all the information. Being positive about something that's speculative or unproven is deceitful and leads to a lack of trust in what an expert says. Explain what you are doing to find out — When experts admit what they don't know, it's okay. Especially if they explain what they are doing to get a more complete picture of the situation. Tell people what they can do in the meantime to be on the safe side — In the face of uncertainty, especially health-related uncertainty, people are looking for something they can do. Something that will make them feel less helpless. Providing advice on something they can do gives them some sense of control. Think mask-wearing and hand-washing. We all know it won't cure us, but it's something to give us a fighting chance. And it's something we can do. Remember it's all about the humans — With all the sensationalism around "rates" it's easy to forget that behind those numbers are people. People with families and friends. People who are or were trusted colleagues and people who have left a void. A company that displays empathy and understanding of these realities is one that's sowing the seeds of trust. Yes, be truthful, but double-yes be empathetic. Address all the questions and concerns of those who need to know — Make an effort to really understand what's on peoples' minds. Give them a chance to address their fears and do your best to acknowledge and address them. Even if you don't have all the answers, actually listening to peoples' concerns can, in itself, give some comfort. It can also clue you in about what you'll need to address when more information becomes available. Anticipate misunderstandings and address them — Experts in a field are often so enmeshed in their own specialties that they don't understand that the rest of us don't have their level of knowledge. Make no mistake about it — what's perfectly clear to an expert is not perfectly clear to the rest of us. Professional communicators have a responsibility to point this out and help experts develop digestible messages that work for those who don't know as much as they do. Demonstrate "unapologetic uncertainty" — This last point is probably the toughest one for subject experts to acknowledge. Those who've spent a lifetime in a field don't like to admit that what they know is not all there is to know. They want to be right. We want them to be right. But the truth is, for something like a once-in-a-century pandemic, no one has all the answers. And, although it's a tough nut to swallow, unapologetic uncertainty is more useful in the face of new information than sticking with what you thought you knew. Andrea Obston is the president of Andrea Obston Marketing Communications, a reputation management firm in Avon. By Lori Kiely & Mary Jane Foster O n March 16, when the Hartford region essentially shut down in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the phones at Interval House became very quiet. By early April, the number of calls to the Hartford police was so great that the department dedicated four officers to domestic violence incidents. The phones exploded, and in the next three months, the number of telephone contacts rose 58% over the same period in the previous year. Victims needed to know whether to stay or go, how to stay safe in a dangerous home, how to protect their children, and how to survive. One family was forced to flee so rapidly that they arrived with nothing. Another mother arrived having escaped an attack with a machete, and still, another woman came after she had been beaten unconscious and left to die in an apartment her abuser had set on fire. COVID-19 has increased the danger and severity of domestic and sexual violence. People are confined at home with their abusers, children are in harm's way, many social services are shuttered or overwhelmed, and isolation in these circumstances can be a tool of psychological torture. Economic pressures and job loss exacerbate the danger and restrict options for fleeing or finding safety. Even before COVID-19, the level of domestic violence in Connecticut was alarming. According to statistics, 14 people on average are murdered every year by their intimate partners. Intimate- partner violence homicides account for 13% of the state's homicide rate. Nearly 90% of victims are women. Each year, Interval House helps thousands of people survive, flee or heal from abuse or assault. As part of the broader community, businesses like Berkshire Bank can be instrumental in providing support to employees experiencing gender-based violence. The business community in Connecticut can be an innovator and leader in providing workplace solutions to help individuals at risk. Berkshire Bank recently formed a partnership with the nonprofit FreeFrom, creating pathways to financial security and long-term safety for survivors. Berkshire Bank took proactive action and enhanced its existing protections to provide its approximately 1,500 employees with paid and protected leave to manage the consequences of intimate partner violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. Employees now have additional paid leave to seek medical and/or mental health care, secure victim services, locate housing, attend child custody and/or legal proceedings, as well as other related matters, all without having to forego a paycheck or use vacation/sick leave. While expanding these benefits for its employees, businesses can leverage local organizations such as the Interval House, the domestic violence response center for 24 towns in Connecticut. Interval House has remained open throughout the pandemic and provides free and confidential help, including emergency shelter, counseling, court support, and other resources/ classes. How can your business improve the support of employees experiencing gender-based violence? Start by ensuring that your corporate policies and practices are in place and support survivors of gender-based violence, including fully paid and protected leave. You can also commit to educating your employees on the impacts of gender- based violence and how to identify it. Work to improve gender equity and diversity in the workplace, and lastly, provide financial and volunteer support to organizations that are working to address gender-based violence. They can't do the work without support. As a community, we must show up for one another. Our businesses must set a good example by showing up for intimate partner violence survivors and the organizations that provide help, hope and healing. To learn more about how your company can better support its employees who have experienced gender-based violence, contact Amy Durrence, FreeFrom Director of Systems Change Initiatives (amy. durrence@freefrom.org). Lori Kiely is the director of the Berkshire Bank Foundation and Mary Jane Foster is the CEO of Interval House in Hartford. OTHER VOICES Biz community can lead in supporting workers facing gender-based violence TALKING POINTS How to communicate in the age of COVID OPINION & COMMENTARY Lori Kiely Andrea Obston Mary Jane Foster

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