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Chapter 8 – Communication Content

Once we understand the color in crisis and that our mood or affect is an important dimension of crisis communication, we can begin to consider crisis content.  People not trained in crisis intervention generally focus more or less exclusively on the content when talking with an individual in crisis.  As our understanding of crisis color suggests, the mood or tone of the individual in crisis is at least as critical as, and perhaps even more critical than, the specifics of what happened and what is happening.  If we look at any of the examples of crisis in the text, we can see that a calm, rational, planning person would be able to understand and deal with the situation.  The critical aspect of the situation comes primarily in terms of the individual’s mood or color.  It is his anger, fear, anxiety, apprehension, extreme depression, and so on that elevates the now potential and works against his dealing with the situation himself.  It is the blue of crisis communication that directly responds to the most critical part of the crisis, that is, the individual’s being so upset or agitated that he is unable to calm down, slow down, and plan ahead.

At first glance, it may seem naïve to suggest that most crises can successfully be reduced by the simple technique of controlling your mood, or affect, as you respond to the individual in crisis. If you can consistently respond in purposeful shades of blue, assuming that your verbal comments are relatively neutral and innocuous, you will usually need to do nothing more than filter the individual’s communication through your blue screen.  If you continue this process patiently, caringly, and persistently, the crisis will pass.  With further thought and experience with people in crisis, though, you will see that the intensity of the individual’s emotional state, his crisis color, is what is really keeping him from dealing with the situation himself.  Filtering and modifying those emotions, then, is the main thing we have to do to reduce the crisis.  If you can stay calm, “keep your cool,” and avoid verbally or emotionally attacking the individual or pushing him away, he will respond positively.

It is important to see that this communication model places primary emphasis on the quality of the interaction between you and the individual.  The mood or tone of that interaction is the part of helping that helps the most.  Along with the stress on the quality of interaction this communication model also implicitly and explicitly assumes that the individual in crisis is capable of being a rational, planning, thinking person.  We do not see the individual as sick or disturbed.  He is a healthy, responsible person just as you and I.  His problem is that the conflict in his interaction with his situation is extremely stressful to him.  It is this stress he is under that is causing him to be anxious, upset, afraid, extremely angry, and so forth.  If we can help him deal with these intense emotions and gradually get him to look more critically at his situation, he has the strength, capacity, and integrity necessary to deal with it.

It can hardly be overemphasized that the present approach to crisis intervention assumes that we are dealing with healthy people who are capable of dealing with their life situations.  Our mood and tone and the color of our communication help them to use their own reasoning and planning capacities.

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