Awkward Conversations: How To 'ACT' On The Crisis In Ukraine

Key stakeholders in the credit union movement are perhaps feeling anxious or uncertain. What should we, as leaders, be saying to members and employees?

 
 

I hate awkward conversations. I am afraid of saying the wrong thing. Or, I don’t know what to say, so I say nothing at all. According to my wife, that doesn’t serve me well.

In the best of times, watching the news is more duty than leisure. But watching the news during the past two weeks has been downright excruciating. Heartbreaking. The ongoing war in Ukraine has spurred more than one of those awkward conversations that I dread.

For example, I had to have a conversation with my boys, ages 8 and 10. How do you explain to children that there is a war in a faraway land — but everything at home will be OK? Saying something is better than nothing, isn’t it?

I’m sure many credit unions have been busy in operational areas working on OFAC tracking and compliance. Information security, too, has likely increased situational awareness and monitoring. Perhaps some credit unions have conducted tabletop exercises around ransomware or have added these events to the calendar.

These all are good operational steps. But what about the soft side? What about the people?

As leaders, we have key stakeholders who are perhaps feeling anxious or uncertain. What should we be saying to members and employees? Sitting here today, I don’t know the answer to that. I have no idea how this will play out or in what timeframe. I pray we have a quick resolution, but part of me fears we are in for a longer-term period of uncertainty. And although much of the conflict is happening far away, people closer to home are feeling the impact, too.

This week, gas prices topped $4 a gallon, according to AAA. On Tuesday, USA Today reported prices have reached the highest in U.S. history.

That the average American might spend $2,000 more on gas this year if prices remain this high is a big deal. And inflation, which already was running high before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, will begin to impact members’ cash flow if it remains elevated or increases further. Unfortunately, some credit union members will find themselves weighing a trade-off between putting gas in their car or food on their table.

The question credit union leaders now face is: What do we do?

Are we ready to have some awkward conversations? There’s a lot of uncertainty, and there’s no one right thing to say. I’m not really sure what to say, but I have thought a lot about it, and perhaps we can take a page from what we learned early on during the COVID-19 pandemic. In April 2020, my colleague Chris Howard wrote about a framework developed by Gallup as part of the collaborative credit union program we offer together. The ACT framework comprises three simple steps and provides credit unions a path to communicate with members and internal teams alike.

 Acknowledge emotions (fears, feelings, worries).

Confirm needs (immediate cash flow, longer-term budgeting, possible trade-offs in resources).

Take action by communicating next steps (even if it's just reassuring members the credit union cares about them).

Messages heavy on reassurance, understanding, and caring go a long way in offering peace of mind and building the emotional connections that drive engagement of employees and members. Investing the time it takes to listen to your members as they express their concerns can go even further. The advice I would share is that something is better than nothing. It might be awkward, but that’s OK.

The ACT Model empowers credit unions to respond to member needs with empathy and lay the foundation for stronger relationships in the future. Read more in “ACTing With Empathy.”

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