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NOT JUST CONVERSATION


Perhaps it will be helpful to think
about crisis communication in terms of its differences from and its
similarities to more typical conversations in which communication is
sequential.  You make a comment or
observation, express a feeling, or send some other type of message to me.  I receive your message and add some ideas and
feelings of my own.  I then send you a
message related to what you said but include my own ideas and feelings.  You receive my message and add some ideas and
feelings of your own.  The process goes
back and forth with our individual ideas and feelings being added.  Over a period of time, then, we may have
talked about many different things, expressed a lot of different views and
ideas, and ended up with something that had no apparent relationship to what we
started talking about.  We have moved,
sequentially, from one thing to another, and our communication drifts.  In crisis communication, however, focus
starts and remains with the individual and his crisis.


As we think about the communication
loop, an example may help to illustrate differences between ordinary
conversation, on the one hand, and crisis communication, on the other.  Recall Dick’s predicament with his supposedly
unfaithful wife.  First, consider how a
conversation might go between Dick and a friend.


DICK:  I just found out that my wife has been
sleeping with a man she works with.


FRIEND:  How long has that been going on?


DICK:  I don’t know. 
What do you think I should do?


FRIEND:  I wouldn’t put up with it.  Did you tell her what you thought about it?


DICK:  I sure did! 
I told her what I thought, and I feel like packing my bags and leaving.


FRIEND:  You can stay at my house a few days.  You don’t have to put up with that kind of
stuff going on in your own house.


As we can see, Dick’s friend not
only added his own opinions and attitudes but, in fact, encouraged the snowball
effect of Dick’s crisis.  As we mentioned
in Part I, crisis intervention should reduce the now potential and increase the
self-resolution factor.  Dick’s friend tended
to move the crisis in a direction that increased the now potential.  In addition, the friend’s behavior tended to
lower the self-resolution factor. 
Instead of increasing Dick’s ability to deal with the crisis, the friend
tended to take over the situation himself, telling Dick what to do and giving
him directions.  The friend’s effort to
improve the situation through conversation probably made things worse.


Next, consider the following crisis
communication involving Dick.  In this,
you make your knowledge, skills, and feelings available to him in a way that
reduces the now potential of the crisis and increases the self-resolution
factor.


DICK:  I just found out that my wife has been
sleeping with a man she works with.


YOU:  Wow! 
How are you dealing with that?


DICK:  I told her off, and I feel like packing my
bags and leaving.


YOU:  I think I might feel pretty hurt, angry, and
confused if that happened to me.  Where
do you think you might go?


DICK:  I haven’t thought about it.  I just think I’ll leave.


YOU:  Wonder if running will help things any?  It might just make matters worse.


DICK:  I don’t know; I can’t just stay here and act
like nothing happened.  What do you think
I should do?


YOU:  I don’t know, Dick.  I want to help.  Maybe it will help to talk about it some more
and to try to think things through.  Had
you and your wife been having trouble?


As we look at this example of
crisis communication, we can see that you have somewhat reduced the now
potential by getting Dick to think about what is going on and by involving him
in the crisis communication process.  You
are working toward increasing the self-resolution factor by getting him to look
at the situation, question his actions, and think about what might have led up
to the crisis.  At the same time, you are
beginning to develop a “picture” of the crisis and are inviting him to tell you
more about his situation.  You are
following the crisis intervention process, responding to Dick’s feelings, and
showing some honest empathy with him and his predicament.  You are not having a conversation with
him.  You are involving him in crisis
communication.


People communicate with each other
for many reasons.  We may communicate to
get or give information.  To get
information, we read books, newspapers, letters, pamphlets, catalogs; watch
television, listen to the radio; ask people questions; go to meetings; and so
on.  We are constantly in the process of
getting information.  Sometimes we do it
intentionally because we want the information. 
Sometimes we do it out of habit, or for lack of anything else to
do.  We also spend a lot of time giving
information to other people.  We answer
their questions, write letters, tell them things they may or may not want to
know, point things out to them, and so on. 
Getting and giving information occupies much of our communication
time.  At other times, we communicate for
entertainment.  We go to movies, talk to
friends, read good books, start conversations while waiting in line, telephone
our family, and so on.  Sometimes we
communicate just because it is expected. 
“Hello, how are you?” … “I’m fine, how are you?” This kind of social
communication is familiar to all of us. 
At other times, communication involves giving advice, expressing
opinions, just talking because things are too quiet; and if we are deep in
thought or doing something tedious, we may even talk to ourselves.


Crisis communication is a special
and limited type of communication.  It is
solely for the benefit of the individual in crisis.  We like to be helpful, enjoy working with
people, and feel good if our efforts are appreciated.  Nevertheless, our purpose is to help people
in crisis, and their purpose is to be helped. 
Why will it be more helpful for them to talk to us than to talk with a
friend, a member of the family, or someone else?  Why can we help when other people
cannot?  In part, our helpfulness comes
from our understanding of and focus on the crisis communication process.  Everything we say and do is solely for the
benefit of the individual in crisis.  We do
not blame, accuse, pass judgment, become extremely sympathetic, take sides, or
become “pushy” or meddling.  We start
where the individual is in terms of his thoughts and feelings and do not jump
to conclusions or assume that we understand and try to tell him what to do
about his problem.  We recognized that he
is a unique individual with a unique situation. 
He and his situation may be very similar to others we have dealt with,
but it is his life and his problem and is, thus, very special to him.  We are not going to “treat him” or try to
solve his problem.  Rather, our goal is
to help him calm down, slow down, think things through, and plan ahead.  We assume that he is a rational person
capable of dealing with his world.  Our
efforts are supportive and encouraging. 
We modify and clarify his messages, filter his feelings, and let him use
our knowledge and skills to his benefit. 
In crisis communication, the individual uses us to supplement and
support his own skills and capacities. 
Being available to him in this way is the major difference between
crisis communication and other types of communication.  Further, this special characteristic of
crisis communication is what is most helpful about this kind of help.




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