Crisis Communication Ethos: Admit to Ambiguity
Contrary to popular belief, admitting to the ambiguity of a situation does less damage to an organization’s credibility in the long run than pretending all is in hand. Seeger (2006) writes, “A best practice of crisis communication, then, is to acknowledge the uncertainty inherent in the situation with statements such as, ‘The situation is fluid,’ and, ‘We do not yet have all the facts’” (p. 11). For example, Reeves’ article (1998) about French and American scientists’ communication during the 1983 AIDS crisis shows that (as shown in the case of the French) even incomplete information is valuable and should be given to audiences (p. 9).
From a study of leadership during the Hurricane Katrina crisis, Littlefield & Quenette (2007) conclude, “It would be wise for authorities to acknowledge deficiencies in their crisis responses to avoid conflicting perspectives (mortification) that will emerge later” (p. 44). Authorities in Hurricane Katrina made the mistake of trying to paint positive images for their actions rather than focusing on accuracy. As a result, many governmental authorities were accused of incompetence.