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What do You Need?

Now reread the answer to the last question. Probably the team you assembled in response to that question will continue to deal with the results of asking this question. There’s one more thing to focus on.

In a time of crisis, when emotions are high, it’s tempting, yet disastrous, to promise things you hope you can provide but which, when the question is asked, you aren’t sure you can deliver. People don’t cut you a lot of slack for these promises. Remember, they hear the promises through their own emotions and often cling to them as literal lifelines. Going back on a promise (even an implied one) with so much emotion invested, is at best uncomfortable and at worst a disaster (potentially bigger than the original crisis).

So what’s a leader to do? Only make promises you can personally fulfill by your own authority or out of your wallet. For things beyond those parameters, stop, listen carefully, take notes about the issue or need, and respond with something like the following: "What I’ve heard is that you need [recap the individual’s request]." Pause and wait for confirmation. "What I’m doing with all requests that we can’t immediately fill is the same thing I promise to do with yours. I’ve taken notes along with your contact information. My promise to you is that I will be back in touch with you by [insert a reasonable length of time]. By then we’ll have a better grasp of the entire situation and I’ll be able to answer your request accurately."

Putting this in your own words and practicing it will make it your own. Discuss it with your crisis team and make sure they understand the impact for all of you when any one of you makes a promise that can’t be kept later. Apply the old customer service motto: Underpromise and overdeliver and you’ll be all right.