A situation such as the Chilean Mine Collapse presents significant challenges for communications professionals. Among the most important is the need to identify the various different audiences and their respective needs and circumstances. Some audiences have a high level of personal attachment and emotional connections to the individuals directly involved and a very limited technical background. Conversely, other audiences have much greater levels of technical knowledge. Providing excessive technical details to lay audiences, especially lay audiences with high degrees of attachment to the principals can undermine the effort to inform them while unnecessarily increasing their stress rather than providing assurance or allaying their fears and concerns. Meanwhile, providing insufficient technical specificity to expert or professional audiences can undermine the goal of establishing or maintaining trust and result in increasing the frustration level of the audience.
Moreover, in both situations, choosing the wrong communications vehicles or content can give the incorrect impression that the organization issuing those communications is engaged in covering up the truth or misrepresenting the facts. Lay audiences may perceive excessively technical descriptions as a means of deflecting their attention from the truth, while expert professional audiences may perceive excessively general descriptions as purposely omitting important details and information.
The consequences of miscommunication with families include exacerbating the emotional toll as well as anger toward the organization. Anger is a natural impulse in highly emotional situations and the organization runs the risk of becoming the scapegoat as a function of this natural impulse where communications with families are mismanaged. Ideally, specific contact people must be available 'round the clock to avoid frustrating worried family members, such as by encountering recorded information hotlines instead of life personnel operating information centers. Similarly, the organization must establish sufficient employee involvement to avoid exacerbating any sentiments of alienation as between management levels and employees. Employees who receive detailed information and even solicitations for input are much less likely to respond in anger toward the organization than employees who feel excluded or patronized by the organization's response.
The Potential Needs of the Families and Employees in Receiving Communications
Both groups need information detailing what happened, what is the current condition or status of the individuals involved, and what plans are being implemented to rescue them. Generally, the families need to know any positive information or reasons to believe that their loved ones have not necessarily been severely injured or killed and they will need to know what resources or procedures are available to update them continually. Meanwhile, employees need to know, in much greater detail, exactly what happened and exactly what is being proposed on a technical level to rescue the survivors. To a certain extent, both groups have similar needs; however, the organization must tailor its communications to provide the necessary in formation in the tone and format that is most appropriate to each group.
Taking Action to Ensure the Intended Result from Communication
In principle, taking action to ensure the intended result from communications intended for consumption by families must emphasize sensitivity and provide the most optimistic possible perspective that does not cross the line of truthfulness. As long as there is a realistic hope of rescue, communications intended for families should focus on the efforts that the organization is making and on the effectiveness of the many safeguards and emergency procedures available. For example, in this particular case, those communications would emphasize the availability of emergency compartments to allow the miners to retreat into relative safety, the sufficiency of their emergency equipment, and on the extensive emergency training that ultimately did play a tremendous role in allowing the miners to survive as long as they did.
In principle, taking action to ensure the intended result from communications intended for consumption by employees must provide much fuller disclosure of details than would be necessary to satisfy families because the audience is so much more sophisticated. As a result, communications about details that might be appropriate for families would likely be perceived as insufficient or even deceptive by virtue of omission in communications intended for employees. Certainly, communications intended for employees must also express sensitivity but they must emphasize the specific strategies and tactics being considered by the organization or already under way.
Toward those ends, the organization should establish in-person formats for representatives to meet with families to provide information and field questions and specific concerns in the…
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