Crisis Communication

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We Simply Do Not Have the Answer: A Case Study in Ineffective Crisis Communication

“We understand that it has been a difficult time for all the families…We find ourselves in a difficult position. I repeat: the question that the families principally want answered, is the question we simply do not have the answer to – namely, where their loved ones are, and where is MH370.”
-Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysian Minister of Defense,
March 31, 2014[i]

There is no good way to find out a loved one has perished.

It is a problem that every human being will inevitably face in life, and no amount of preparation or awareness of the situation will truly make the sting of grief any easier. However, for nearly a thousand individuals around the world, the wait to find out what happened to their loved ones has lasted for three years. And the way that these individuals found out that their loved ones almost certainly perished came after a prolonged period of confusion, conflicting information, and mistrust, and was delivered in one of the most impersonal ways possible. I am referring to the loved ones of the passengers and crew on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Three years ago today, on March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (MH370) departed from Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 am local time and was expected to arrive in Beijing at 6:30 am. However, at approximately 2:40 am, Malaysia Airlines lost contact with the plane. Since that morning, Malaysia Airlines, the Malaysian government, and international search agencies and governments from across the globe were in a frantic search for answers as to what happened to this flight, and the 239 souls onboard.[ii] That is until January of this year, when the investigation into what happened to flight MH370 ended with little to no answers[iii]

The international search for the plane, however, is not what interests me here. Rather, how Malaysian Airlines and the Malaysian government communicated to the people most invested in the answer to what happened to flight MH370, the families and friends of those on board, is.

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Like 10,000 Other Days Until It Wasn’t: A Case Study in Being Adaptable, Nimble, and Effective When Things Don’t Go According to Plan

“It was a day like literally 10,000 other days—until it wasn’t. I had been flying airplanes for 42 years, and in all that time I never knew when or even if I would be faced with some ultimate challenge.”

-Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger[i]

Nearly one month ago a movie opened in theaters that is quickly gaining acclaim. The movie would have naturally gained attention given the Hollywood icons who are part of this project – Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart as the stars, and Clint Eastwood as the director. But the film’s early notoriety did not simply come from the Hollywood elite involved in the film, but rather from the story the film portrays – that of Captain Chesley “Sulley” Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffery Skiles successfully landing a plane in the Hudson River.

On January 15, 2009, 155 people boarded US Airways Flight 1549 from La Guardia Airport heading to Charlotte, North Carolina.[ii] As the flight climbed into the sky, a flock of birds flew into the engines of the plane, what is known as a “double bird strike.” At about 3,200 feet of altitude, both engines failed.[iii]

Captain Sullenberger had almost no time to make a decision about what to do. He could attempt to fly back towards La Guardia and make an emergency landing on that runway. But if he missed, the plane would crash in a heavily occupied metropolitan area of New York. He could instead attempt to land at a small private airstrip in New Jersey called Teterboro, but again risk landing in a heavily occupied area. Or he could attempt to land somewhere with little to no risk of injuring civilians on the ground, but in a place that could only too easily destroy the plane and everyone on board – the Hudson River. There were no good options, and so Captain Sullenberger picked the least bad option: to ditch the plane in the Hudson River.

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What is a Crisis?

This video is of Katie Garcia, Founder and President of Athene Strategies, explaining what a crisis is and how it can actually become an opportunity to build trust and confidence, gain competitive advantage and help an organization achieve its goals.


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Resisting the Urge to Take the Bait: FIFA Jack Warner and Comedian John Oliver’s Video Showdown

I have spent a great deal of time working with religious leaders of all historic faith traditions from across the globe. One such religious leader—a Unitarian Universalist minister from the United States—often says, “You do not have to enter into every fight to which you are invited.” In other words: Don’t take the bait.

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