The Principles of General & Crisis Communication
Media Languages B.A.
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Communication is the transmission of informations
The aim of communication is to transmit a message
from a source to a receiver without any loss of
information even in presence of noise.
This presentation is meant to be a “Crisis
communication 101”, so...
The secret for a good communication is...
Or maybe not...
The “Hypodermic needle” or “Magic Bullet” was
the ﬁrst relevant model of communication.
Rooted in the Psychological Behaviorism of the
‘30s (like B.F. Skinner, for example), this theory
suggests that the message is completely absorbed
by the receiver exactly as intended by the sender.
...but this process is a bit more complex than this...
According to Ferdinand de Saussure, the categories of
signiﬁer and meaning are the key to understand
the sharing and the transmission of the informations.
The word “DOG”, our signiﬁer, bears the idea of the
dog, our meaning, but only for those who are able to
link the signiﬁer and the meaning.
This process is arbitrary, with some exceptions, like
onomatopoeias and interjections.
This concept seems very simple and basic applied to
single words but try to apply it to technical terms like
“ﬂash ﬂood” or “earthquake swarm”:
the experts use these expressions everyday but the
general public may not fully understand them.
Is everything clear?
Let’s put this into practice with a little example!
Almost everyone in the World knows the meaning of
the word “pizza” but...
...as it’s frequently said that the Inuits have more than
20 words to deﬁne different kinds of snow, in Italy we
have almost 20 ways to deﬁne ﬂatbread!
Words and expressions can even assume different
meanings among people who speak the same
So, how can we communicate in a correct way?
To understand the importance of a good communication,
let’s analyse a quote by Paul Watzlawick, one the most
inﬂuential ﬁgures of Palo Alto School.
“One cannot not communicate”
Even silence is communicative and the same is for
our clothes, our facial expression, our car and so on.
Communicating during an emergency is essential,
otherwise people will gather informations from any
available source, including unofﬁcial and untrusted
Paul Grice identiﬁes four maxims useful to
achieve a cooperative communication
Make your contribution as
informative as required
Be clear, avoid ambiguity
So, what are the main features of a good
A brief warning about authoritativeness and
According to De Certeau, technical knowledge
(authoritativeness) leads to authority but authority is in
turn strictly bound to its abuse.
L’abuse de savoir gives authority to the expert, even
about topics far from his ﬁeld of knowledge.
We can afﬁrm that this effect is even stronger if
messages are endorsed by an organization.
And now that we acquired the right forma
mentis to create a perfect message, how will this
inﬂuence people’s behavior during emergencies?
An unclear communication
may result in...
In this case, people will gather informations from
unofﬁcial sources and they could ground their
behavior on untrustworthy data.
A correct communication
Our message satisﬁes the audience and its need for
Consider that, according to the situation awareness
theory, the decision making is preceded by three cognitive
Perception Comprehension Projection
In order to make a conscious and sensible decision to
handle a situation (especially a risky and stressful one) the
subject must obtain the informations needed to ﬁll these
The construction of the situational awareness is a process
that may require a very short or a very long time,
depending on the situation, and, most of all, the more
complete and comprehensive the informations are, the
more the decision ﬁts the situation.
To ease the decision-making process in emergency
situation, we have to work during peacetime to spread
emergency culture among the population.
Remember! Only with an everyday relation the
organizations can build the necessary trust to diffuse
the emergency culture and to work as gatekeeper of
unofﬁcial informations during crises.
A further recommendation
Crisis communication is not limited to crises, it involves a
My two cents...
Ignore social media at your peril!
Thank you for your attention!
Let’s keep in touch!