Volume 6, Issue 6 - December 2011Print | Email

Creating Opportunities and Renewal Out of a Crisis

opportunity ahead signThe renewal process starts by seeing crisis as an opportunity. Viewing a crisis as an opportunity involves taking a counter-intuitive approach to defining the event. Over the past little while I have been working with a number of organizations dealing with different types of crises. One example is a government in Africa concerned about a crisis that could threaten their legitimacy and the goals of their country. Another is an organization and government that recently went through the worst environmental disaster in United States history. In another case, a food industry I spoke with is dealing with national and potentially global food borne illness outbreaks. Finally, I am currently spending some time with a middle school dealing with how faculty and students can consider communication and bullying. At first glance, one could consider this as one of the most depressing few years in recent memory without much room for hope. I consider these examples in an entirely different way. My goal in crisis communication research and practice is to help organizational leaders think and as a result communicate differently. In this essay, I argue that by viewing the positive during crises, leaders can expand their communication choices to create renewal, transformation, and opportunity.
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Cross Current

Practical Advice from Communication Experts: Communication Resolutions for 2012

happy new yearAs the beginning of the new year approaches, our minds often turn to a review of what we accomplished in the year coming to a close, as well as what we’d like to accomplish in the year ahead.  These resolutions often focus on making better choices about our physical health.  However, we could also resolve to improve our communication behavior in the New Year, as doing so can also increase our quality of life.  So, we asked communication experts to suggest communication resolutions for 2012.  Here’s what they suggested….

While amidst the finishing stages of my dissertation I began the process of becoming a certified yoga instructor. When teaching (and practicing yoga), being present in the moment and communicating with intention is imperative. Too easily can distracting thoughts cause the instructor to lose her or his place and students to misstep. Likewise, while writing, I learned that too much attention to what had been written or what still needed to be written prevented me from actually writing. Living in the moment is a challenge many people face and so I offer the more nuanced resolution of communicating with intention. In each moment, notice the words you choose, the tones you use and the body language you convey. Don’t get pulled into the past by memories nor tempted into the future by possibilities, rather focus on the now, be in the present, and communicate with awareness and compassion.

Rachel E. Silverman, Ph.D., Embry Riddle University

I have two communication resolutions for 2012. First, I want to give more of my undivided attention, especially to family. I need to practice mindfulness. I often am preoccupied with other thoughts, conversations, and tasks. I give only half of my attention to a lot of discussions and it shows. I miss opportunities for important conversations and send the wrong message to those important to me. Second, I want to communicate gratefulness. I tell myself that those I appreciate most know how special they are to me and how thankful I am for them. I know that is not really true. It is often the people I love the most who hear it the least. It is possible to hear “thank you, I value you” or “I love you” too much? Here’s to a happy, healthy, mindful, grateful 2012!

Courtney Waite Miller, Ph.D., Elmhurst College

Smile.  It’s a simple thing that not only is good for you but those around you.   Yale psychology professor Marianne LaFrance reports on several benefits that come from smiling.  People with big grins live almost five years longer.  When we see a smile, we get an emotional high.  Also, smiles and happiness are contagious.  So, if you smile, so will your friends.  Smiling allows me to initiate conversations, helps me make friends and get around easier when I’m travelling, helps minimize job-related problems, and has even improved my dating life.   Research also shows that smiling makes us look younger, improves our mood, lowers blood pressure, boosts endorphins, and makes us appear more attractive.  Smiles provide a safe conduit for new beginnings.     

Stacey A. Peterson, Ph.D., Notre Dame of Maryland University


I resolve to more thoroughly consider how my verbal and nonverbal communication reflects my own choices, and, more importantly, how my word choice, argument choice, and nonverbal messages affect the choices of others.  

John Meyer, Ph.D., University of Southern Mississippi

My resolution for readers of Communication Currents is really an axiom for behavior: Lower expectations should lead to higher levels of personal happiness.  Tom Magliozzi, host of NPR’s “Car Talk” once said, “Happiness equals reality minus expectations” and I think he’s on to something.  The Danes have relatively low expectations and they have been rated as one of the happiest countries in the world for over 30 years, according to the Eurobarometer Survey.  The notion of lower expectations is focused on becoming more open to appreciating “what is” rather than dwelling on what has been or what should be in the future.  This resolution is as much for myself as it is for you, the reader.  I want to be more mindful in my thinking and remember that no one is perfect (except for Mary Poppins and even then she was only “practically perfect” not “actually perfect”) in every way.    

Laurie Pratt, M.A., Chaffey College, Chino Campus

I resolve to write better subject lines in all of my emails. 

  • The subject line should make the message easy to file and easy to find; for example, start with the course number, the committee name, etc.
  • The topic should follow and give the reader a good clue about the message.  For example, “homework” and “tomorrow’s class” do not provide a good clue.  But “COMMS 241 – Homework Due 1.1.12” does.

I also resolve to never, ever send an email without a subject line.

Franziska Macur, Ph.D., Edgewood College

Family members who are dispersed often experience sadness due to a perceived disconnect with their loved ones, especially around the holidays. However, new communication technologies, such as Skype, allow dispersed family members to stay closer by having more interactivity with each other through video conversations. Thus, I recommend that families who do not live in immediate proximity to each other make the “communication” resolution to learn to use one new communication technology for the New Year. Doing so will allow families to improve their communication and sense of connectedness. To do so, I suggest that younger family members, who tend to be more adept at using technology, take the time to teach their parents and/or grandparents a new communication technology, such as Skype. Keeping this resolution will improve family members’ communication throughout the year.  

David H. Kahl, Jr., Ph.D., Penn State Erie, The Behrend College  

Here is a fast and free way share holiday cheer with coworkers. Express gratitude and appreciation about something coworkers have specifically done to three different people in your workplace--one with whom you are close and friendly, one whom you barely know and one who has, at some time, done you wrong. Research shows that expressing gratitude channels positive emotions, moods and feelings for the grateful individual. It also encourages health and wellness, enacts positive coping, buffers depressive responses and toxic work environments, and can help reappraise an unpleasant event or memory you may have experienced at work or home. Furthermore, gratitude spirals outward, encouraging others to feel appreciative and grateful to those around them and promotes prosocial behaviors that extend beyond the initial dyadic relationship. This holiday season consider what you are grateful for in those you work with and you will inspire health and happiness in your workplace.

Gino A. Giannini, M.A. & Sarah J. Tracy, Ph.D., Arizona State University

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Cyber-Warfare, Google, and U.S-Chinese Communication in an Age of Globalization

keyboard bombIs bombing your enemy’s air defense headquarters with laser-guided missiles fired from F-16s different than planting a computer virus that cripples the facility’s operating software? If you are going to violate the airspace of an alleged ally—albeit one prone to double-crosses and strange dealings with terrorists—is it better to seek diplomatic license, or to sneak your fighters in, or to paralyze your ally’s air defenses with a cyber-attack? What are the lines demarcating conventional warfare from anti-terrorist operations from computer hacking? 
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Instructors' Corner: Communication Competence and Cell Phone Use

girls textingCell phone use is evident in our society. Individuals have cell phone conversations while waiting in line at the grocery store, glance at their cell phones during meetings, check Facebook while having dinner with friends, have a meaningful phone conversation with a parent, and even text while sitting in church service. According to a Nielsen 2010 Media Industry Fact Sheet, there are over 223 million cell phone users over the age of 13 in the United States. In addition, recent research findings presented by Common Sense Media report that children in the United States as young as 0-2 years use mobile media. 

Cell phone policies for university classrooms and cell phone etiquette guidelines abound. For some, cell phone use in an educational setting is viewed as distributive in this environment. In addition, it is not uncommon for libraries to have cell phone use policies and determine what spaces in a library are no phone zones or phone friendly zones. 

Given the prevalence of cell phone use and the attempts to regulate its use, connections to communication competence need to be explored. 

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Health Blogging, Social Support, and Well-Being

medical blogSocial support is essential to well-being and can have a profound impact on our ability to cope with life’s challenges. When we are facing significant events—caring for an elderly loved one, losing a close friend, going through a divorce—supportive communication such as advice and expressions of caring can have substantial, positive effects. For people suffering from physical or mental illness in particular, social support can be a critical resource. Compelling evidence exists suggesting that supportive communication can improve the quality of life among people with illness.
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Being Open While Avoiding Talk about Lung Cancer

Ulmer Mother and DaughterThis study examines how people cope with a family member having lung cancer. Although experts and people who have experienced this situation generally recommend “being open and honest” about the situation, new evidence suggests that even families who cope relatively well do not always follow that advice. 

Knowing how people cope with deaths due to lung cancer is important, in part, because it is a challenge that many families face. Every year, approximately 1.4 million people worldwide die from lung cancer. There is a lot of medical information available about the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of lung cancer, but much less about how to best cope with a family member having lung cancer. 

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Using Institutions of Faith to Communicate about Crises and Emergencies

St. Louis CathedralRecent accidents and disasters like Hurricane Katrina and earthquakes in Japan and Haiti have brought home graphic images of destruction, death, and human suffering. These events have also shown us the importance of communicating with those affected both before, during, and after events of these types. When state and local government, first responders, and emergency managers use effective communication strategies, they can help people prepare for disasters before they strike, and assist with aid and recovery efforts during their aftermath. Not surprisingly, when accidents and disasters take place people are compelled to seek out information, and will likely do so from a variety of sources. We can expect individuals in different circumstances to have different needs and seek out different types of information, depending on their particular concerns.
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Photojournalism and the Pursuit of Social Justice

Triangle Shirtwaist FireOn March 25, 1911, 146 workers died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Just as factory employees were preparing to go home, an oil-soaked rag caught fire and flames spread rapidly through the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors of the Asch building where employees toiled. The majority of the workers were immigrant women who soon discovered that doors they might have used for escape were locked (a measure the owners took to control stealing), the single fire escape was impassable, the elevators were filled to capacity, and the flames were upon them. Workers on the tenth floor fled to the roof and were transported via ladder to a neighboring building, but many workers on the other floors were not so lucky. Some jumped to their deaths, while others burned or died from smoke inhalation. 
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Journalism For and By the Public: Creating a Free Press

online newsDuring the last few years, many have analyzed the online press, speculating about why its transition from print has been fraught with difficulty, and proposing ways to save journalism from its precarious financial predicament.  Much of the debate has focused on developing new journalism business models.  For us, the more important question is what type of press and public sphere does democracy require?  That is, scholars and practitioners should first analyze what a robust democratic speech environment could and should look like before considering the institutional designs and economic models necessary to ensure it. 
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Home Page | Creating Opportunities and Renewal Out of a Crisis | Practical Advice from Communication Experts: Communication Resolutions for 2012 | Cyber-Warfare, Google, and U.S-Chinese Communication in an Age of Globalization | Health Blogging, Social Support, and Well-Being | Instructors' Corner: Communication Competence and Cell Phone Use | Being Open While Avoiding Talk about Lung Cancer | Using Institutions of Faith to Communicate about Crises and Emergencies | Photojournalism and the Pursuit of Social Justice | Journalism For and By the Public: Creating a Free Press 
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