3 Communication Blunders that Cause Panic
In these exceptional times our communication with one another becomes more important than usual. I’ve noticed some trends in how communication is happening online and offline and wanted to share some behaviours that can incite panic (and/or crisis) without people necessarily realizing so.
Communication blunder #1: Withholding information while being overly reassuring or overly distant
Sometimes we withhold information to from those around us in order to ‘protect them’. Often this is followed by being overly reassuring (‘everything’s fine’) or being overly distant (‘don’t worry about it, I got this’). This can undermine people’s agency in a situation. People can sense that, and it can lead to more panic than just being transparent and honest. Panic is less likely to be triggered if people feel confident in their understanding of what is happening, and that they have control over their choices.
Communication blunder #2: Minimizing people’s fears or concerns
If someone is panicking then they are afraid. They are in fear. Minimizing someone’s fear is likely to do everything except get rid of the person’s fear. Fear is an irrational response and needs to be acknowledged, validated and moved through in order to actually be minimized. This is a scary time and people have many reasons to be afraid. If you aren’t (or your own fear response is to minimize it) then that is your own feeling and should not be projected onto others.
Communication blunder #3: Imposing shame and judgement to try and change individual behaviour
Unless you are using shame as a tactic to demand change from the most powerful (governments, corporations, the police, etc), shame and judgement does more harm than good, and leads to resistance and immobility over change. The reality is we are many people trying to survive this situation and there is no way we will all do it the same way. Explaining your position is just as important as listening and making space for other stories and experiences. Try to understand where someone is coming from. Start a dialogue. Shame leads to panic (distress, collapse, immobility, defensiveness), and makes people less likely to be able to hear us or trust us with their safety.
Surviving this pandemic should not fall on individuals and become an individual problem. Rather than assigning blame to (often) marginalized populations, consider contacting your local officials and asking them to provide better supports and safety nets to the most vulnerable during this time, as opposed to bailing out large corporations.