Kathy McKenzie on Risk Communication

View FIRE UP Coaching® Director Kathy McKenzie talk about the importance of communication in stressful or emotional situations.

Video transcript
Hi. My name is Kathy McKenzie. I thought this week that my blog post could be about outrage management and the kinds of issues that are really challenging lots of organisations at the moment.

I first did some work with the Department of Environment and Primary Industries around managing stress in communities after disasters in 2009 and 2010, after the 2009 fires. I attended a workshop by Consultant Psychologist Rob Gordon, who talked about what stress does and the impact it has in communities.

I was then fortunate to follow on and go to a workshop by a very wise presenter called Dr. Peter Sandman. Dr. Peter Sandman has a fantastic model that looks at risk in relationship to hazard and emotions. So, what we mean by that is, understanding when you’re dealing with specific events about whether the risks are real or not.

So, you only have to open the paper any day this week. This week being the 30th of July today has been particularly bad in terms of disasters and all sorts of horrible things happening around the world. But it really highlights how important it is if you’re working in emergency services or in any area where you’re dealing with the community after an emergency or a crisis, how important it is to know the right kind of communication to use.

If I think about a recent scenario in Victoria, where there was a fire in Morwell that required the whole town to be evacuated. So, you can imagine what a logistical nightmare that is. Since that, there’s been an inquiry into the fire. What has come out has been a number of significant examples of poor communication post the crisis. I don’t want to specifically point the finger at anybody.

I think it’s really important that when you first go into a community that is suffering such extreme stress, that you understand that every word that comes out of an emergency management or a health or a police or a fire officer’s mouth will be taken quite literally and people will also attach all kinds of meanings to things.

For instance, the Department of Health after Morwell announced that they’d be putting some money towards researching the incidents of cancer post the fires. Whilst the intention was really positive, the impact was that people immediately panicked to think, “Oh my goodness, am I a candidate for cancer now?” So, whilst our intentions might be real positive, when we take action after a crisis or an emergency situation, we need to really understand the impact that communication is going to have.

So, Dr. Peter Sandman has developed this wonderful model that teaches people in that situation how to utilise the appropriate strategy for communication. So, if the risk is high and the emotion is high, you’re dealing with crisis communication. If the risk is high but potentially the hazard is not–so, that might be something like me getting outraged about asylum seekers and the way that they’re treated. The risk to me personally is actually not high per se, but the actual emotion that I feel about that is an absolute outrage.

So, there’s a very different kind of communication that’s needed if you’re communicating with someone like me who’s outraged or, perhaps, fanatics, people that are fanatical about a particular issue. So, Dr. Sandman gives you some good techniques and strategies to deal with people who are in that emotional space.

The other area that he works with is when the actual risk or the hazard is really high, but people are not paying attention. So, you could look at the current situation with the Great Barrier Reef where they’re looking at potentially allowing a coalmine to dump thousands and thousands of layers of toxic waste in the Barrier Reef. Whilst the risk is truly very high in terms of the environment, there’s perhaps not the level of emotion in the community that there should be about something like that.

Or they can be personal scenarios, such as when someone is smoking. The risk to their own health is high but their emotional factor is quite low. So, they’re not actually doing anything about it. So, that’s when we advocate precaution advocacy. So, that’s actually a technique that Sandman teaches around getting people to actually get a bit more emotional about things where the risk or the hazard is actually quite high.

So, we’re very fortunate that we’ll be having Dr. Sandman in Australia in September. So, if you’d like some more details about that, feel free to contact us here at FIRE UP.

Like this video? Share it!