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Chapter 7 – Crisis Color

Crisis always has a mood or color.  The psychiatric literature frequently refers to this dimension of people in crisis as “affect.”  In crisis communication, color refers to the mood or disposition of the individual in crisis.  Does he seem depressed, angry, agitated, anxious, fearful; how would you describe the individual’s mood?  Using colors is a convenient way for us to communicate information about an individual’s mood or affect and to describe and understand the three major or most observable moods or affective states.

It may be helpful to think about several people in different situations.  As an exercise, think about these individuals.  What kind of mood are they in?  Using a word or short phrase to describe each person’s mood, think about whether they seem happy or sad, angry or loving, tired or energetic, optimistic or pessimistic, and so on.  Crisis communication is unlike most other forms of communication.  Developing a knack for describing an individual’s mood or tone in a word or short phrase will help in recognizing and understanding this dimension of crisis situations.

Mrs. J is sitting in her backyard in a lounge chair.  She reading a book, and her children are playing quietly in the sandbox near by.  It is a sunny spring day, and Mrs. J occasionally chuckles as she reads.

Mrs. K bites her lip as she slams the cupboard door in her kitchen.  Her children know better than to bother her right now, and her husband is staying out in the garage.  She moves in a very deliberate and methodical way and the pans bang as she sets them on the stove.

Chuck, age six, squirms in his seat and is fiddling with his pencil.  He keeps glancing around the room.  He is tapping one foot against the leg of his chair and has not turned a page in his picture book for five minutes.

Denise, age nineteen, is talking on the telephone, “Why won’t you be there?”  There is a long pause.  Her voice is a little shaky.  “I don’t understand.  Everything seemed okay last night.”  Another long pause.  “But will you be there later?”

Don is talking quite loudly: “Will you shut up and listen to me.  I have told you that a thousand times.  If you don’t believe me, there is nothing I can do about it.  Call him and ask him yourself.  I’m getting sick and tired of this damn routine every time I’m twenty minutes late.”

Ellen is talking very slowly.  It is difficult to hear her, for she seems to be swallowing her words.  “I just don’t have any energy left anymore.  I can’t fight it anymore.  I tried and tried and don’t feel like trying anymore.  It wouldn’t do any good anyway.”

Ed seems like he is about to cry and keeps clearing his throat.  “I don’t know what’s going to happen.  The doctor said it may not be serious, but they have to check on it, anyway.  She’s so little.  It’s all my fault.  If I had been paying more attention, this wouldn’t have happened, and she wouldn’t be paying for my stupidity now.”

Frank shakes your hand as he sits down in the chair beside your desk.  “We have to get this straightened out.  We spend all of our time hassling and arguing about it and seem to get nowhere.  It’s the kids.  We simply cannot agree on how to deal with them.  She is more of an open person and thinks it’s okay for them to run in the house and make a lot of noise and do pretty much whatever they want to.  I wasn’t brought up that way.  We were taught to respect our parents and to conduct ourselves like ladies and gentlemen.  One of us has to be wrong, and somebody has got to tell us which one.  She would have come with me, but one of the kids is sick today.  She’ll come next time if you want her to.”

In addition to thinking about the mood of the individuals described here, you can make a game out of figuring out the mood of people you come in contact with over the next few days.  You will see that you can get clues about the mood of an individual by what he says, the way he talks, his actions and postures, and the myriad of messages and clues he gives you.  This ability to recognize and understand the mood of an individual is a basic skill in crisis communication.

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