Conkling: Actions Speak Louder than Words in Crisis Response

Words matter in crisis response, but actions leave the longest lasting impression. President Obama recently came under scrutiny as some said he took too long to fit in a tour of flood-ravaged southern Louisiana in August. Meanwhile, Obama praised FEMA for stepping up disaster relief efforts in the last decade, a trend that has helped repair the agency's damaged reputation after Hurricane Katrina. 

Words matter in crisis response, but actions leave the longest lasting impression. President Obama recently came under scrutiny as some said he took too long to fit in a tour of flood-ravaged southern Louisiana in August. Meanwhile, Obama praised FEMA for stepping up disaster relief efforts in the last decade, a trend that has helped repair the agency's damaged reputation after Hurricane Katrina. 

"Actions speak louder than words in crisis response, and the actions that speak the loudest are ones that align and affirm an organization’s core values,” CFM President Gary Conkling told a group of Puget Sound water officials at a seminar Wednesday in Woodinville, Washington.

“Words spoken in a crisis response are important,” Conkling said, “but the actions behind those words are what leave the most lasting impression, especially with the people impacted by the crisis.”

CFM President Gary Conkling

CFM President Gary Conkling

He gave an example of a retaining wall failure at the construction site of a new water reservoir near a residential area. “One of the most powerful actions you can take is to knock on the doors of nearby neighbors to explain what happened, describe how you are fixing the problem and listening to their concerns,” Conkling said. “If a TV reporter team shows up later and interviews the neighbors, they can say they’ve already talked to you.”

“They may still have concerns, but that direct, one-on-one contact with the agency will be an important demonstration that the agency is on top of the problem,” he added. “That can be an important, maybe the most important part of the story."

Conkling also offered a number of other crisis response tips, including the following:

“No one wants to face a crisis,” Conkling said, “but if one does occur, worry less about how to control events and more about the quality of your response.”

“A crisis is a moment when you can demonstration your commitment to your values and mission,” he said. “It is an opportunity to build goodwill and loyalty that no amount of paid advertising could ever achieve.”