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Silence is not golden: remaining silent in a crisis puts your reputation at risk

In the hectic reality of crisis communication, instinct often leads to a strategy that seems temptingly calm and safe: silence. Read on to find out why this (non-)communication doesn't help and usually hurts.

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1. Illusion of control

The silence strategy is based on the assumption that the fire will extinguish itself if it is not fanned further. This is linked to the desire to retain control over communication by withholding information until a clearer picture emerges. But this approach disregards the natural laws of any information vacuum - it never remains empty. In the absence of first-hand official communication, speculation, rumor and misinformation quickly fill the void.

2. Erosion of trust

Trust is the foundation of every relationship. By choosing to remain silent, companies unintentionally send signals of indifference or, even worse, that they have something to hide. This non-communication can undermine the trust stakeholders have painstakingly built up. They ask themselves the question: "If they keep silent now, when else will they withhold important information?" Rebuilding this lost trust is a task that can easily exceed the original crisis in complexity and cost and have far-reaching consequences.

3. Missed opportunity for leadership

Challenging crisis situations in particular offer opportunities to demonstrate leadership qualities and corporate values. Remaining silent means missing this opportunity. In contrast, proactive communication allows a company to shape the narrative, show compassion and outline the steps being taken to address the situation. It is an opportunity to show not only resilience, but also a commitment to transparency and responsibility - qualities that can strengthen a company's reputation in the long term.

A better alternative für crisis communications

Instead of lapsing into silence, companies should focus their processes on communicating early. Even if it's just to say: "We are aware of the situation and are gathering more information."

We know the 15-30-60-90 rule of thumb from aviation:

  • After 15 minutes, "we know of an incident."

  • after 30 minutes "we confirm an incident",

  • after 60 minutes there is an initial statement,

  • a first media briefing after 90 minutes.

In addition to the actual information content, the rhythm is a clear signal from the company to stakeholders: "This is how we will communicate in this crisis situation." Early communication therefore does not mean making premature statements. Rather, it signals a promise of regular updates and helpful transparency as soon as the situation allows.

As part of crisis preparedness, the crisis management team should therefore be empowered and authorized to quickly gather facts, formulate messages and disseminate them through the appropriate channels.

In addition, in today's digital era, the use of social media as a tool for real-time communication can be particularly effective. However, this requires a keen sense of the platform and the crisis situation in order to avoid missteps that could further exacerbate the situation.


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