Communication disconnect during a crisis can lead to frustration and mistrust. Fourteen months into a global health pandemic and living in a country where the covid-19 vaccine roll-out continues to be inconsistent across provinces, I want to address the key points of effective communication during a crisis. Both the scientific and day-to-day communication from the government officials and their chosen scientists in Canada has been an obvious struggle to evoke confidence and calm among their citizens.
As a trained health professional with a university science degree, communicating the scientific process is rarely final to the public is never easy. It takes skill and practice to communicate the complexity of this type of information.
Building communication skills for politicians, doctors and other scientists to effectively communicate to the public can be a difficult, and a time-consuming task. And sometimes they never master the skills. Remember that Microbiology Professor’s ability to communicate in your first-year University course or your government-funded Doc explaining the scientific strategy behind how Canada is rolling out the covid-19 vaccinations! Let’s look at my top three tips for effective communication during a crisis.
1) Provide Clarity
We know from the current health crisis that the evolving science is just that – evolving. But the public wants definite answers. Actions they can take and feel good about the information they are receiving will benefit their wellbeing. For example, early in the pandemic the message was – it’s not necessary to wear a mask, then it was – it is necessary to wear a mask.
Offering clarity about the scientific process as recommendations change is important. The clearer your message is, the more believable it will be. Offering vague, unclear statements does not build confidence in your audience and implies you are not revealing all the information.
2) Build Confidence
To build confidence in your audience, it’s important to speak with clarity and accountability. Ideally scientists, especially Doctors and other Health Professionals need to be good communicators, but that is clearly not the case as we are witnessing firsthand in Canada during this health crisis.
Immediately, it’s necessary to be able to deliver the available information and science in a timely and understandable manner. Messaging there will be an announcement about an announcement doesn’t only cause anxiety, but it creates lack of transparency, plus it can add more problems while providing less solutions.
For the future, an emphasis on science communication to several audiences, during university education and formal training would be helpful for the scientific communication process of any future health crisis.
3) Remain in Control
In times of duress, it is important to have the ability to demonstrate emotional intelligence and remain in control. Again, after 14 months of a global pandemic, it is obvious from the public communications in Canada this can be extremely difficult to achieve and requires a great deal of practice. It also requires a well-coordinated, unified approach with all communicators and agencies.
When the right-hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing and/or saying, then this creates chaos in the communication messages. Providing meaningful answers to questions is also necessary to stay in control. Particularly in times of crisis and stress, the public needs a figurehead or figureheads that exude competency, self-awareness, and confidence. If that is not possible, then communication professionals should be hired to evoke calm and confidence while staying in control and on top of the messaging.
Effective communication during a crisis can provide clarity, build confidence, and give the audience the feeling of control. Ineffective communication can lead to disconnect, frustration, as well as mistrust. It’s important to remember – clear public communication requires all communicators to have effective skill and know-how with all forms of media.
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