Five little letters, one big word

Five letters make up one of the most important words in communication and especially when dealing with critical incidents or crises. That word is trust. It is often misunderstood, often overlooked and many times disregarded. But when an organisation or institution loses the trust of people whether they are customers or others then it is a long road back.

We have already seen the impact of a loss of trust in the Government when they told people not to panic about fuel. There were a number of factors at play but as many have said trust is vital when you are trying to encourage people to behave in a particular way. It is also something that we have seen with policing in the aftermath of the murder of Sarah Everard. At the time of her murderer’s conviction I spoke to PR Week to say the impact was significant and there was no simple way out of the position.

The latest example of losing trust can be seen with the reports about the media being angry they were misled about the Queen being in hospital for one night. Why does it matter? Because when someone tells us something we later find out to be incorrect, and they did it while being in full possession of the facts, then how can anything else be trusted to be accurate? This starts to dismantle relationships in the first case mentioned that of the Government and the electorate, and in the most recent between the media and the Royal Family.

Such things can happen in a moment but take months and even years to recover from. There is no magic wand that will undo the damage. What it needs is a prolonged period of openness, transparency and above all honesty about situations that emerge. People need to see that what happened was a blip, a moment in time that the organisation has learnt from and will move away from, and not usual behaviour. Communication, as always, is critical to achieving this. What does it mean for the communicator? It is vital that they manage expectations and ensure that those at the top of the business understand the impact the situation has had on trust, why it has happened, and how long it will take to recover?

It is time to talk truth to power. This is about explaining the road back, what is required not just from communication but most importantly from the actions of the business. Trust can be recovered but not overnight.

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