The development of this interaction
model of crisis communication shows content and crisis feeling as separate but
interrelated aspects of the communication loop.
In actual crisis situations, however, it may be helpful to think about
content and feeling as parts of a message clarification process. The individual has ideas and feelings that he
wants to communicate to us. He somehow
puts these into verbal and nonverbal messages that we have to interpret. How do we go about decoding or interpreting
his messages? We want to know what he
means and how he feels. As we begin to
communicate with him, then, we might deal with each message by first clarifying
the meaning and feelings. We could say
to him, I hear you saying that things happened this way. We then restate what we understood him to
have said. Having done that, we say, If
that is what you meant, it seems like you feel this way about it, and tell him
how we think he feels. He has given us a
message, and we have responded by telling him what we understood him to have
meant and how we think he feels about it.
This helps him think about what he meant and what was involved in the
situation as well as getting him to focus specifically on his feelings. If we have accurately understood and read
his feelings, he will go on to give us another message. If not, he will clarify his meaning or
feeling. With each message, we can go
through this process of restating the meaning and feeling, letting him clarify
and restate if we were wrong, and continuing back and forth until we really do
understand. More importantly, this
process lets him know that we understand.
To push the point one step farther, we can see that the process of message
clarification helps him think more clearly about what is going on and helps him
clarify his own feelings. He has used
our skill and ability to enhance his own ability to understand and think
through his thoughts and feelings. To
summarize the idea of message clarification, we want to be sure that we
understand both the meaning and feeling dimensions of each message. We accomplish this by restating the message
in our own words and asking the individual if we have accurately caught his
meaning. In addition, we reflect back to
him our understanding of his feelings about the particular incident, person,
situation, and so on. This gives him an
opportunity to see if we really do understand how he feels. If we have misread his feelings, he can
clarify them for us. We will continue
the process of restating and reflecting the meaning and feeling of the message
until the individual agrees that we really do understand what he meant and how
he feels. We will not go on to another
subject or question until we are sure that we really do understand what is
being said now. I hear you saying , and
you seem to feel . I hear you saying ,
but Im not sure how you feel about it.
You seem to feel , but Im not sure what you think about it. If we continue the process of message
clarification until we understand both the meaning and the feeling of the
message, we have reached a point of honest, informed empathy. This level of understanding and empathy is
the major goal of crisis communication.
We gently and persistently clarify
each message from the individual until our understanding of his meaning and
feeling is the same as his. We are then
sincerely and honestly able to say to him, I hear you, I understand you, and I
In our day-to-day relationships
with other people, we occasionally feel that we are talking with someone but
not communicating with them. The
process of message clarification is an extremely useful technique in such
situations. In crisis intervention,
however, message clarification is critical if we are to avoid misunderstanding
or the feeling that we are not communicating with the individual. With our family, friends, business
associates, and so on, there is an equal and shared responsibility to be sure
that we do, in fact, communicate. In
crisis intervention, the responsibility for clear and meaningful communication
is ours. This example of message
clarification may seem very stilted, and you may think you would never use this
technique in any kind of interaction, especially not in a discussion with a
person in crisis. Nevertheless, you
should at least try it out the next time you get the feeling that you are not
Message: Im sixteen now, and I dont think you should
keep treating me like a baby.
Response: I hear you saying that you think I treat you
like a baby and that it makes you pretty angry.
Message: Yes, it makes me mad! You act as if I should account to you for
every breath I take and for every minute of my day.
Response: I hear you saying that I act like you have to
account to me for everything you do or think, and you feel like thats a bit
Message: Its too much. I dont know where you think you get
off. Im old enough to make my own
decisions and to decide about my own life.
Response: It sounds like you are saying that you do not
think that I have any right to tell you what to do or to have any control over
you, and when I try to tell you what to do or to control you, you feel like I
am pushing and interfering with you life.
Message: I didnt say that at all. I didnt say that you dont have any right to
tell me what to do. I just said that I
think you treat me like a baby. You want
to decide everything for me. Its not
that you dont have any rights. Its
just that I think that you can carry it too far, and that makes me pretty mad.
Response: I misunderstood. I thought you were saying that I didnt have
any right to tell you what to do or to try to set some kind of limits. Im glad we are talking about this. Your point seems to be that you think I carry
things too far, and thats what makes you mad.
You just carry it too far. I
dont think I should be allowed to do everything I want to, but I do think I
should have some freedom and some right to make my own decisions.
Response: You seem to feel a little better now that
youre finally getting your message through to me. I guess the problem is where to draw the
line. Our disagreement is about where I
do have the right to tell you what to do and where I dont. Would you agree with that?
Message: Yes. I
think we should really get that straightened out.
Response: I agree.
I think we should get it straightened out too. What ideas do you have?
Message: I dont know.
If I told you, youd just get mad again.
Response: I hear you say that you dont know, but I
think you probably have some ideas about it.
The problem seems to be that you dont think I will listen. You figure Ill just get mad about it.
Message: Thats about it.
Response: Im sorry I have made you feel that way. I didnt realize it, but I guess I must have
a habit of getting angry when you try to tell me what you think and feel. That really makes me feel bad. Would you be willing to try to tell me what
kinds of rules and limits you think would be fair? If you will try to tell me, I will try to
listen without getting angry.
Message: Ill try, but I dont think itll help much.
Response: If you will try to tell me, I will try to
listen. I hear you saying that you are
willing to try but that you dont think I will listen without getting
angry. Im not saying I agree with you or
that we will necessarily do it the way you want it done, but I am saying that I
will really try to listen to what you are thinking and feeling and will try to
keep my emotions and feelings under control.
If we can talk about it with this agreement, I will really try, and I
want you to tell me if it seems like I am getting angry or upset.