How does ambiguity influence crisis approach and language patterns?
How we approach a crisis effects the outcome. Our language patterns are an indication of how we’re approaching the crisis and internally managing our strategy, thoughts, and emotions. The degree of control we feel about navigating the crisis, the greater the impact on language.
In a recent post from Grammarly, they report an interesting trend in how 20 million users, worldwide, have shifted their linguistic choices.
They found as the pandemic spread there was a 75% drop in the optimistic tone of people in the United States. At the same time, they found a 70% rise in an informative tone.
Globally, the numbers were close, but not as off in the informative tone as in the US. 70% using less optimistic tone and 53% more informatively.
So, why should we care about this change in linguistic patterns?
As people feel less in control of a crisis and have less information about a crisis, they look for answers to fill in the blanks left by leadership, on their own. As I’ve said countless times, ambiguity, left to the imagination of someone who feels powerless or in fear, will easily, if not always, end up going to the dark side.
The mind despises ambiguity and feeling helpless, we’re not built for it. The mind will search for patterns and fill in the blanks, but not always in a good way.
Here are some of the approaches people will take during a crisis riddled with ambiguity:
- Some will dive into as much peer-reviewed research as they can find to look for answers or guidance.
- For those that don’t understand the scientific “stuff”, they look for someone to fill in the blanks for them, leaving the door open for the next group.
- Some will take the opportunity to fill in those blanks with convoluted and shocking “information” used as a self-serving chance to be in the spotlight and/or rally a tribe of supporters to prop them up as a magical truth seer.
Everyday people will suddenly become experts on the crisis to feel some semblance of control and authority. Some are amazing at gathering complex information and synthesizing it for others. Others….. not so much.
We naturally want to comfort ourselves by knowing what to expect next and most take action to do something about their situation, with or without leadership.
What can leaders learn from the way people are externalizing their internal processes during this Covid crisis?
When a crisis hits your business, your industry, or globally, it is vital to give your team as much information as possible on the crisis and what you, as a leader, are doing to navigate the crisis for them and with them.
If you leave gaping holes of ambiguity, lack of leadership, and uncertainty to fester, you will end up with some wild rumors, conspiracy theories, loss of trust, and severely damage your culture for years to come. You may even lose your business as a sacrifice to the Ambiguity Gods.
Never leave the opportunity for your team, employees, friends, or loved ones to go to the dark side caused by your ambiguity.