TOC Next Previous

Chapter 7 – Crisis Color

Crisis always has a mood or
color.  The psychiatric literature
frequently refers to this dimension of people in crisis as “affect.”  In crisis communication, color refers to the
mood or disposition of the individual in crisis.  Does he seem depressed, angry, agitated,
anxious, fearful; how would you describe the individual’s mood?  Using colors is a convenient way for us to
communicate information about an individual’s mood or affect and to describe
and understand the three major or most observable moods or affective states.

It may be helpful to think about several
people in different situations.  As an
exercise, think about these individuals. 
What kind of mood are they in? 
Using a word or short phrase to describe each person’s mood, think about
whether they seem happy or sad, angry or loving, tired or energetic, optimistic
or pessimistic, and so on.  Crisis
communication is unlike most other forms of communication.  Developing a knack for describing an
individual’s mood or tone in a word or short phrase will help in recognizing
and understanding this dimension of crisis situations.

Mrs. J is sitting in her backyard
in a lounge chair.  She reading a book,
and her children are playing quietly in the sandbox near by.  It is a sunny spring day, and Mrs. J occasionally
chuckles as she reads.

Mrs. K bites her lip as she slams
the cupboard door in her kitchen.  Her
children know better than to bother her right now, and her husband is staying
out in the garage.  She moves in a very
deliberate and methodical way and the pans bang as she sets them on the stove.

Chuck, age six, squirms in his seat
and is fiddling with his pencil.  He
keeps glancing around the room.  He is
tapping one foot against the leg of his chair and has not turned a page in his
picture book for five minutes.

Denise, age nineteen, is talking on
the telephone, “Why won’t you be there?” 
There is a long pause.  Her voice
is a little shaky.  “I don’t understand.  Everything seemed okay last night.”  Another long pause.  “But will you be there later?”

Don is talking quite loudly: “Will
you shut up and listen to me.  I have
told you that a thousand times.  If you
don’t believe me, there is nothing I can do about it.  Call him and ask him yourself.  I’m getting sick and tired of this damn
routine every time I’m twenty minutes late.”

Ellen is talking very slowly.  It is difficult to hear her, for she seems to
be swallowing her words.  “I just don’t
have any energy left anymore.  I can’t
fight it anymore.  I tried and tried and
don’t feel like trying anymore.  It
wouldn’t do any good anyway.”

Ed seems like he is about to cry
and keeps clearing his throat.  “I don’t
know what’s going to happen.  The doctor
said it may not be serious, but they have to check on it, anyway.  She’s so little.  It’s all my fault.  If I had been paying more attention, this
wouldn’t have happened, and she wouldn’t be paying for my stupidity now.”

Frank shakes your hand as he sits
down in the chair beside your desk.  “We
have to get this straightened out.  We
spend all of our time hassling and arguing about it and seem to get
nowhere.  It’s the kids.  We simply cannot agree on how to deal with
them.  She is more of an open person and
thinks it’s okay for them to run in the house and make a lot of noise and do
pretty much whatever they want to.  I
wasn’t brought up that way.  We were
taught to respect our parents and to conduct ourselves like ladies and
gentlemen.  One of us has to be wrong,
and somebody has got to tell us which one. 
She would have come with me, but one of the kids is sick today.  She’ll come next time if you want her to.”

In addition to thinking about the
mood of the individuals described here, you can make a game out of figuring out
the mood of people you come in contact with over the next few days.  You will see that you can get clues about the
mood of an individual by what he says, the way he talks, his actions and
postures, and the myriad of messages and clues he gives you.  This ability to recognize and understand the
mood of an individual is a basic skill in crisis communication.

TOC Next Previous