How To Communicate with Compassion During Crisis

I travel quite a bit, so I’ve been paying attention to how the airlines are responding to the coronavirus crisis. I’ve gotten emails from the three airlines I use most, Delta, American, and United. Crisis communication requires compassion, which was notably absent in these messages.

All of the notifications conveyed two basic messages;

  1. We know safety is important so here’s what we are doing about it. (Information)
  2. Here’s why you can still trust us. (Commitments)

Here are the opening and closing paragraphs for each email I received. I’ve left out the parts listing the specific actions each airline is taking since they are essentially identical. Information parts are coded Blue, and Commitments are in Purple.

Delta (Ed Bastain, CEO)

As a valued member of the Delta family, I appreciate the trust you place in us and our people worldwide when you travel.

In the current environment, it’s important for all of us to travel smarter and more consciously. That’s why I want to personally update you on the situation with COVID-19 (the coronavirus) and the steps we are taking to ensure your health and safety in your travels.

(Here they list all the steps they are taking)

I believe Delta’s mission of connecting the world and creating opportunities is never more important than at times like this.

Thank you for your continued trust in Delta, and I look forward to seeing you in my own travels throughout the year.

American (Kurt Stache, SVP, Customer Experience)

Your safety and well-being is always our top priority at American Airlines, but particularly in relation to the coronavirus (COVID-19). Providing you with up-to-date information on what we are doing to respond to the issue is a critical step in giving you peace of mind when you travel. Here are a few highlights of our efforts:

(Here they list all the steps they are taking)

We are confident that our incredible team of more than 130,000 will care for you in the best possible way during your journey with us.

United (Oscar Munoz)

I consider you part of our United family and your safety remains our highest priority.

We are in the business of serving people and in the midst of this coronavirus outbreak it’s important that we give you as much flexibility as possible when planning your next trip. But it’s also important that we give you as much information as possible about the procedures we follow to clean our aircraft and maintain a sanitary environment once we’re in the air.

(Here they list all the steps they are taking)

I want you to know that you can continue to rely on us. So, the next time we have the privilege of welcoming you aboard our aircraft, you can know our commitment to you remains as steadfast as ever.

Lack of Compassion in Crisis Communication

What’s consistently missing in these crisis communication emails is openness, the foundation for compassion. None of these top leaders make an emotional connection with their constituents. There is no empathy for the feelings of anxiety and fear and no acknowledgment of the vulnerability we all feel. United and Delta make a broad statement about “family” but show no effort to connect at a personal level.

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Compassionate communication requires transparent information exchange, and solid commitments to behavior, but first and foremost is an emotional connection that acknowledges the human connection we all have. Why? Because it is this connection that get us through the crisis together instead of falling apart.

The Compassion Cycle provides a framework for communicating during crisis while including all aspects of compassion.

Openness: Make an emotional connection. Most importantly during crisis is to name the anxiety and fear and connect personally with it so that people get the message, “You aren’t alone and you feelings matter.”

Resourcefulness: Active, informed problem-solving. All three airlines did a great job of this. Even better, give us travelers things we can do to lower our risk and partner with you in the solution. This helps us feel more in control during times of uncertainty.

Persistence: Be trustworthy. Be trustworthy. Be trustworthy. Be honest, be dependable, and be consistent. We all need to know what to expect from you.

Want help applying our compassion template to your crisis communication strategy? Call us for a free 30 minute consultation. +1 316 283 4200, email 

Ideal compassionate communication from any airline would have read like this;

I can imagine that you are anxious and afraid about travel safety in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. This is perfectly normal and we are in this together. Our loved ones are also traveling. We are here for you because you are part of our family.

Here is the most up-to-date information we know, and these are the steps we are taking to ensure your continued safety and comfort.

Our mission is ___________. Our commitment to you is__________. You can count on us to uphold these values during this crisis.

I appreciate how difficult it is to communicate effectively in times of crisis and uncertainty. If you are struggling to find the right approach, use ORP (Open-Resourceful-Persistent) to do it with compassion. We are committed to teaching you effective communicating strategies so you can feel more confident during turbulent times.

If you need help, give us a call.

Mr. Munoz, Mr. Bastain, and Mr. Stache, the first consultation is on me!

Want help applying our compassion template to your crisis communication strategy? Call us for a free 30 minute consultation. +1 316 283 4200, email

Copyright Next Element Consulting, LLC 2020

Are travel restrictions are keeping you in your office? Take advantage of our VIRTUAL training, consulting and coaching programs.

Next Element’s training programs were built for RIGHT NOW. Never has the need for compassionate leadership and healthy conflict negotiation been more important.

  • No travel needed: Virtual instructor led via webinar
  • Quick: Two hour courses
  • Practical: Immediately applicable skills
  • Cost-Effective: Digital materials, volume discounts
  • Rapid Scaling: Virtual certification allows large-scale deployment within days or weeks.
Read More

Drained or Tired?

Would you rather be drained or tired?

I’ve worked with hundreds of leaders who are heading towards burnout because they are drained so much of the time. Unlike being tired, being drained doesn’t go away with rest and refueling.

Being drained is perpetuated by three myths.

Be Nice

The Myth: Don’t make waves, don’t speak up, and avoid conflict because silence is a small price to pay to keep people happy.

The Drain: Energy wasted on things you can’t control while neglecting your own boundaries and needs.

The Compassionate Solution: Be Open. Share your real feelings without blaming anyone. It’s OK to own your stuff because you are worth it. You will be tired, but you will have self-respect.

Be Smart

The Myth: Give advice, fix problems, and show your expertise because we need to save people from their struggles.

The Drain: Energy is wasted on non-consensual helping which invites dependence and resentment, so you end up doing other people’s work for them. It’s a vicious cycle.

The Compassionate Solution: Be Resourceful. Get curious and meet people there they are at. Ask permission to help and treat people like they are capable. You will be tired from resisting your urge to help, and your people will begin solving their own problems.

Be Tough

The Myth: It’s okay to be the bad guy. Strength equals respect. Strong arm people if necessary because it’s your duty to get things done no matter what.

The Drain: Everything becomes a battle and collateral damage is the norm.

The Compassionate Solution: Be Persistent. Communicate what’s important. Be a role-model and ask people to step up. Follow through on commitments and consequences with dignity and respect. You will be tired and you will experience more ownership and loyalty.

Drained leaders spin their wheels and never recover. Tired leaders get results and sleep great. When you replace the drain of myths with compassion, it hurts so good.

Copyright Next Element Consulting, LLC 2020
Read More

The Difference Between Mindfulness And Compassion

I admire self-aware, centered people who just seem to have it all figured out. And, sometimes they drive me crazy when they don’t DO anything about it. They act like being mindful is enough, all by itself.

Mindfulness is a powerful practice to gain awareness, accept and manage emotions, and get centered. It helps you turn and face internal experiences with openness and curiosity instead of judgment. (more…)

Read More

How to Cure Empathy Fatigue

Empathy fatigue is a phrase coined by Mark Stebnicki, a professor in the Department of Addictions and Rehabilitation at East Carolina University. He explains that, “empathy fatigue results from a state of psychological, emotional, mental, physical, spiritual and occupational exhaustion that occurs as the counselors’ own wounds are continually revisited by their clients’ life stories of chronic illness, disability, trauma, grief and loss.”

Empathy fatigue is especially common in high-touch professions where empathy, care, concern, and emotional support are job duties. Although first recognized in the counseling field, empathy fatigue is gaining more recognition in corporate settings, especially in companies promoting a customer-centric and people-focused culture.

Losing our selves. Losing our soul.

Symptoms of Empathy fatigue are described in Lynne Shallcross’ article, “Who’s taking care of Superman.”

  • Feelings of powerlessness or helplessness
  • Skepticism
  • Irritability
  • Loss of meaning, purpose and hope
  • Lowered concentration
  • Impatience
  • Somatic complaints
  • Low morale or motivation
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Anxiety

How did we get here?

Empathy fatigue is caused by the relentless pursuit to serve the customer coupled with a distorted understanding of compassion.

On the way to perfecting our customer-first strategy we’ve forgotten that the customer is an agent in the equation. We have accepted that we are responsible for making everything better, so we listen more, care more, empathize more, and suffer more.; so that they will have a pleasant experience, stay engaged, and buy more.

Most people believe that compassion is synonymous with empathy, altruism and kindness. That’s wrong. 

How do we get out?

The obvious answer is self-care. It’s a good step, but it’s not the full solution. The solution is to practice compassion in its fullest sense. Compassion means “to struggle with,” not “to struggle instead of.” Here’s how compassion can help you solve empathy fatigue. 

Keep caring and giving

Don’t shut down your heart. People are hard-wired to care about each other. And, don’t forget to also protect your heart. Bleeding-hearts don’t last very long.

Engage others in the process

Stop solving problems for people. Get them involved to take ownership over the solution. Customers are much more loyal and engaged when they take an active role in the solution. When you are doing all the emotional (and physical) work, you are undermining their capability and dignity and creating dependence.

Set and enforce boundaries

Protect your soul by knowing your boundaries and investing in you. Without it, your tank will always be on empty. What keeps you healthy and balanced? Do it. What gives you joy? Do it. Recognize when saying “yes” means you are saying no to what keeps you healthy. You are worth as much as the person you are trying to help. When you are fatigued you aren’t helpful.

Solving empathy fatigue requires difficult conversations with yourself and with others. It’s not easy, and we have a solution.

Start your journey towards more energy and better relationships today with The Compassion Mindset course, offered regularly in a two-hour webinar format.

Copyright Next Element Consulting, LLC 2019
Read More

How To Correct Three Leadership Habits That Destroy Culture

These three leadership habits destroy culture because they support drama-based responses to conflict.

Hiding behind policies

How many policies do you have that were created in response to the behavior of a few people? Rather than confront the behavior with healthy conflict, some leaders hide behind the policy. This sends the the message that we don’t trust most people and we won’t deal directly with problem behavior.

Correction: (more…)

Read More

Distractions vs. Symptoms

I like to think I’m good at multitasking, but I’m not. Especially when it comes to how I devote my attention. The joke around my house is that I can only pay attention to one thing at a time. Our family can be watching TV together and I am so focused on the show that I tune out all the distractions. The “distractions” are usually my wife and daughter talking about what’s going on in their lives. Sometimes I even get frustrated with them for interrupting the show we are trying to watch. Consequently I don’t know what my daughter is doing at school and she seems to go to mom first with questions. But I do remember all the details of the TV show!


Read More

The Discipline Of Optimism

Optimism is not just seeing the glass as half full. It’s about doing what it takes to fill it up.

Optimism is not wishful thinking. Not even a hopeful attitude. Optimism is the discipline of envisioning and pursuing possibility, against the odds. Optimistic people are this way because they work at it. They don’t just see the glass as half full, they push through to keep filling it so that potential turns into reality. Optimism takes perseverance, grit, and belief in the power of a vision and of the people pursuing that vision. Optimism doesn’t give up when the going gets tough. Optimism never quits looking for opportunity, potential, the possibility everyone else missed, the faint light at the end of the tunnel.

Jon Gordon, an ambassador of positivity, wrote this about optimism. (more…)

Read More

Anyone Can Coach With This Simple Formula

If you’ve been an athlete, I bet you remember your favorite coach. Great coaches help inspire us to strive for our best, feel proud of the goals we’ve accomplished, and work together as a team. Coaching isn’t just reserved for the sports field. These days it’s getting more and more popular for professionals to engage executive or life coaches to help them make forward progress in their lives. Most people I’ve talked to have found coaching to be quite beneficial.

What makes a good coach?


Read More

Why Nobody Likes To Be Alone In Drama

I have three daughters: Two teenagers, three with cell phones, three driving and two with boyfriends. I have my share of drama.

Drama is easy to sense, harder to diagnose and treat. Gossip, passive-aggressive behavior, cliques and stirring the pot can lead to strained relationships, mental drain and even physical illness.

Yet everyone plays the game. If you’ve ever avoided conflict to keep the peace, given unsolicited advice, or shut down a conversation to avoid accountability, you’re a culprit.

Drama is a three-ring circus

Nobody likes to be alone in drama. A psychiatrist by the name of Stephen Karpman identified three roles people play in drama. The Persecutor attacks, believing they are OK and others are not OK. They feel justified in berating and intimidating others to get what they want.

Victims are just the opposite. They believe others are OK, and they are not, so they put themselves down by compromising and assuming they are the problem.

Rescuers make their living trying to solve everybody else’s problems to stroke their ego. They have no scruples about nonconsensual helping.

These three roles are co-dependent. They need each other to feel justified and avoid accountability. If my 14-year-old daughter can make me out to be the villain for grounding her, and if I can make her out to be an irresponsible teenager, then both of us get to feel justified. The end result is that nothing changes in behavior or attitudes. The circus repeats night after night. Sound familiar?

Recruiting drama allies and adversaries

The only way not to be alone in drama is to recruit others to join you. Drama adversaries recruit someone to play a complimentary role that justifies their behavior. For example, a victim will start a sentence with an invitation to be attacked by a persecutor; “I hope this doesn’t sound stupid, but I’d like to say home tonight.” Victims recruit rescuers by being needy; “I can never figure this out. What would I do without you?”

Rescuers recruit by imposing with their suggestions. Sensing trouble, they swoop in with statements like, “You know, if you tried my filing system you’d be able to find things quicker.” Victims who take the bait will give in, say they are grateful, but feel resentful and incompetent on the inside.

Drama allies are two or more people playing the same role, commiserating with each other or ganging up against another role. This is gossip! Victims commiserate about how bad they have it, how nobody likes them and how they are powerless. Rescuers stroke each other’s egos about how smart they are and wonder why people don’t appreciate their help. Persecutors gang up on victims, reinforcing each other’s belief that people are lazy, stupid, boring and uncommitted.

How to recognize drama invitations

Once you know what to look for, drama is easy to spot. Three leading indicators tell you that you, or someone else, is heading toward drama.

  • Giving in: 72% of nearly 3,000 people we’ve surveyed say that they compromise to keep the peace. Healthy compromise is fine. But giving in on boundaries or principles undermines your dignity and self-respect.
  • Giving unsolicited advice: If you see someone doing something that you think could be done better, and you just know you could help, it’s tough to resist the urge to jump in. Keep in mind that while you may have a different, or even better solution, the real issue is about self-determination, respect and free choice.
  • Giving ultimatums: Nothing says “I’m running out of options and getting desperate” like an ultimatum. Drawing lines in the sand around boundaries and important rules is fine, but making threats that undermine a person’s dignity is an indicator of drama.

A healthy alternative to drama: Invite energy vampires into the light

Three strategies will help you turn the negative energy of drama into something positive. It’s called compassionate accountability.

  1. Get open: Transparency is the most important, and most difficult thing you can do during conflict. Sharing your real motives and feelings, or showing empathy for the other person is incredibly vulnerable. That’s the point. Getting open shows that your intention is not to struggle against this person, but to join them in finding a better solution.
  2. Get resourceful: Curiosity usually goes out the window in drama. So, bring it back! Instead of thinking you know best, get curious about what the other person actually wants. What problem are they trying to solve? Then, if you think you can help, share your motivation for helping, and ask permission first.
  3. Get persistent: Persecutors attack others for not being persistent enough. Persistent people exhibit patience, perseverance, and loyalty instead. It’s perfectly fine to articulate your boundaries. You don’t have to do it in a “my way or the highway” fashion though. Just be honest about what’s at stake and why you care enough to see things through with them.

Ideally, a combination of Open, Resourceful, and Persistent, in that order, will help right the ship.


  • “I feel defensive because I’ve invested a lot in this project. What questions do you have about the details? It’s important to me to have your support and that we are a united voice with the client.”
  • “It’s hard for me to see you struggling with the formatting on that spreadsheet because I can see how much time it’s taking. I have some experience with that and would be happy to show you some shortcuts if you want. The deadline is tomorrow, and I’m committed to helping you get it done on time.”

Compassionate accountability turns conflict from a distraction into a resource. How will you spend your energy today?

This article was first published in Success Magazine.

How can we be most helpful? Click here to tell us.

Start your journey with the Compassionate Accountability Personal Development Kit

Read More

With Gratitude For The Struggle

Lately, I’ve been using “With gratitude” more in my salutations. And I sincerely mean it.

Here are some things I am grateful for;

  • You, because you are here with me right now reading this post, and I appreciate that.
  • My community at Next Element for being open, resourceful, and persistent in order to practice what we preach and tenaciously pursue our mission.
  • My wife, Julie. Loving, conscientious, smart, playful, dependable, wise, and elegant.
  • Failures that invite humility and lead to better ways of doing things.
  • College-age children who come home feeling grateful for family, actually wanting to be around and talk about things that matter to them.
  • Yard work that helps me feel sore, alive, and satisfied.
  • Wisdom from people who have learned valuable lessons and are willing to share it with others.
  • My mom, my father in-law, and my other father figure and mentor, Taibi, for being the kind of parents a 50 year-old needs.
  • Fresh ground coffee and home-made whipped cream.
  • Stories of changed lives from our global network of trainers, coaches, facilitators, and consultants.
  • Opportunities to make a difference in my community.
  • A BBQ smoker I found across the street that a neighbor was throwing away.
  • Friends of 30 years who love each other and would do anything for each other no matter how long it’s been.
  • Anyone who has taken a stand against sexual assault, bigotry, and economic oppression.
  • All the bloggers and podcasters who have welcomed me on their shows and lent me their platform to share our message of compassionate accountability.
  • Trevor Noah’s fabulous new book, Born A Crime, for triggering a flood of memories from my high school years in Southern Africa. And for teaching me so much more about apartheid. I recommend the audiobook since it’s narrated by Trevor himself.

None of these things has made my life easier or more luxurious (except the coffee). They have added meaning, purpose, and connection. Life is about struggling together. There’s no greater gift than a struggle that creates something amazing. Especially when it happens with others.

Where have you found gratitude in the struggle? Will you share?

Copyright Next Element Consulting, LLC 2017

Let’s stay connected. Click here to select your area of interest. 

Read More