Important Lessons for Effective Risk Communication

I was grateful to have attended a risk communications workshop at Maga Design this past week where I was trained in Dr. Vince Covello’s Pivotal Communication program. Dr. Covello is a leader in theoretical crisis communications and has worked with corporations and government organizations all over the world to develop effective messaging for their crises. I am so grateful for kglobal and Maga Design for giving me the opportunity to learn more about the science of communication and further my skills. I learned so much over the course of the workshop, but there are three lessons that really stuck with me:

  1. Effective crisis communication is based on science. Communicating in a way that calms and informs your audience during a crisis does not have to be fake or sugar-coated if you do it correctly. It is not tricking people into believing certain information when they’re in a vulnerable state. It is about understanding the science behind what goes on in their mind and how they interpret information, and building a message that they will be able to interpret correctly.
  2. Under stress, the brain functions at about 4 grade levels below its normal ability to process information. When you perceive risk, you can’t hear or process information the same way you do when you’re in a calm situation. It is not a personal problem, it is a brain function that happens automatically. It is important that we tailor our messages in a way that respects people’s understanding of what we’re saying when their brain is in that state.
  3. People typically want to know that you care, before they care what you know. Whether your company dragged a person off of a plane, or your CEO verbally attacked an employee, the absolute first thing you say must be a statement of compassion. In order for the public to ever accept your apology, you have to show empathy towards those impacted by your company’s actions. They don’t want to hear your plan to fix the problem or your statistics on how the company has improved yet– they need to trust that you care, before they trust that you’re going to make it right.

Being informed about how to effectively communicate in a crisis goes beyond the public relations industry. These lessons and strategies can be applied in everyday social situations and impact how we communicate with others on a personal level. I’m so thankful to have attended this training and I’m looking forward to applying these skills in the office and in my own life.

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