The world is facing a significant threat. In times like this, managing the crisis is not enough; one must also properly communicate the crisis. That said, communication tactics that work in regular times do not work when there is a crisis.
If you want to communicate effectively in times like this, then read the below concepts and tactics that are developed by Dr. Vincent T. Covello. Finally, if you find this article useful, please share it. That way you can help organizations in need to be heard.
Four concepts you should know about the psychology of crisis
The first concept you must be aware of is mental noise. When we are stressed, anxious, panicked or afraid, our ability to process information goes down by more than 80 percent. Executive functions of our brain, such as thinking, problem-solving, planning, impulse control, concept formation, abstract thinking, and creativity are repressed. In simple terms, stress, anxiety and fear cause extreme difficulty in hearing, understanding, and remembering information.
The second concept you should know is risk perception. Crisis communications have to deal with a paradox: the risks that kill or harm people and the dangers that alarm and upset people are often very different. The real threat and the perceived risk are virtually unrelated. That’s why two equally-harmful risks could cause two to stimulate different responses. Each risk possesses an inherent fear factor. That factor seems to be most significant and intense when risk is perceived to be: involuntary, unfair, not beneficial, not under one’s control, and managed by untrustworthy individuals or organizations. That brings us to our next point.
At the heart of risk, communication lies in trustworthiness. In the absence of trust, no communication objective can be achieved. Determination of trust takes place in the unconscious mind, and it could be evaluated as little as in nine seconds. Three factors determine half of the trust: (1) competence, expertise, and knowledge; (2) honesty, openness, and transparency; (3) accountability, perseverance, dedication, commitment, responsiveness, objectivity, fairness, and consistency. The remaining half of trust is tied to one factor: listening, caring, empathy, and compassion. To sum, risk communication is built on trustworthiness, and confidence is determined by how well a risk manager listens and how much s/he cares.
Finally, we should be aware of six cognitive biases. The first one is the negativity bias. In high-stress situations, negative information receives significantly higher weight. Second, we tend to overestimate the frequency of events that we can remember easily. That’s called availability bias, and it partially explains why so many people are afraid of sharks. The third bias is called conformity, which refers to our tendency to take cues for proper behaviour in most contexts from the actions of others rather than exercise our own independent judgment. Next comes overconfidence. Especially in individualistic cultures, the majority of people would think that they are more cautious or immune than the average people. Confirmation bias is the fifth one. We all tend to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms or strengthens our prior personal beliefs or hypotheses. The final bias is uncertainty avoidance, which has a cultural weight. In times of crisis, people want to know what will happen, not what could happen. That’s why factual information works more effectively than probabilistic statements.
Four communication tactics that work in times of crisis
Crisis communication experts recommend four tactics to improve the effectiveness of your messages.
Average Grade Level Minus 4: Due to mental noise, messages should be greatly simplified. Experts recommend aiming at the average grade level of the intended audience, minus four. For instance, the average educational attainment in Turkey is 7th grade. That means in times of crisis, messages should be so clear that a 3rd-grade kid could understand.
3 Positives for each Negative: As discussed above, because of the negativity bias, we tend to focus more on the negative than on the positive in times of crisis. For this reason, it is crucial to offer three positive, constructive, or solution-oriented key messages for every negative message.
Rule of 3 Messages: Again, due to mental noise, in high-stress situations, we can process fewer messages than we usually could. Consequently, you should limit yourself to having three key messages.
9 Words 3 Seconds: Finally, messages should be concise and precise. It is recommended that each of the three key messages should be organized into sound bites containing a maximum of 9 words that can be spoken in three seconds.
To reiterate, stress, anxiety, and fear alter our mental processes. That’s why communication tactics that work in regular times do not perform in times of crisis. By applying the above tactics, you can significantly improve the effectiveness of your messages.