During this pandemic, I’ve received countless e-mails from my university’s leadership. From the privileged position of an academic pleb with no leadership responsibilities, here are some polite recommendations on how to communicate as the leader of a university community.
1. You cannot be both the voice that manages the response to the emergency, and the voice that reassures and stabilizes the community. You must pick one and delegate the other. Both roles are incredibly important in an emergency, but they are inherently at odds. One must change in response to quickly changing conditions, and incite people to act. The other must remain calm and stable in spite of changing conditions, and make people believe that the confusing things they are being asked to do will work. If you are forced to take on both of these roles, then write your e-mails so that the distinctions between these two roles are very evident (with whitespace, changes in style and voice, etc.)
2. You must not be yet another source of information about the pandemic. People are already facing dozens of often conflicting bits of information about how to protect themselves, how bad things are getting, and what the future will look like. Direct them to authoritative and centralized sources of information but in your own communications only repeat information that is specific to your community.
3. The things you want people to act on should be extremely, painfully obvious. The action points should be presented early, in italics, bolded, and with flame emojis surrounding them. They should be stated simply and firmly as orders to the entire community. (If they are not orders, then they don’t need to be coming from you.)
🔥🔥🔥4. Acknowledge at the beginning and end of every e-mail that this shit is fucked and will be for a while, but everything will be ok in the end.🔥🔥🔥