In Flint, Michigan, and Los Angeles County California, we have two crisis settings in which a prime tenet of effective crisis communication seems to be missing – empathy, that is, identification with the affected residents and what they are feeling. Reports we have been reading indicate that officials at these two scenes have been taking their own good time providing helpful information and responding effectively.
“Telling people who are upset that it is not a problem or serious is a terrible crisis management strategy,” says Susan Tellem, a partner at Tellem Grody Public Relations in Los Angeles, “Everything moved in slow motion with this leak” at a Sempra Energy natural gas well.
Now the company is fending off court challenges when it should be attending to stopping the leak as soon as possible and showing empathy toward the public while it is doing so. It’s as though, “Yeah, we have a problem, but we’ll get to it; "not to worry” is the byword.
For the record, empathy means understanding and responding to the feelings and thoughts of others. Won’t they ever learn?
Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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