In David J. Lieberman’s book “You Can Read Anyone”, the author explained that a person wrongly accused will instinctively go on the offensive, while someone who is guilty will become defensive. This working understanding of human behavior is an important skill set for the PR Professional as it will be an essential consideration when advising their client on the appropriate “tone” to adopt in a crisis communication situation.
The importance of adopting the “correct tone” was clearly illustrated in the Brad Lau saga when Brad responded to allegations against him in a “calm and objective manner” ( http://cwfong.blogspot.com/2010/08/brad-lau-saga_24.html ). This response is uncharacteristic of an innocent person (as supported by David Lieberman’s research), and thus worked immensely against Brad in his efforts to contain the crisis.
In addition, a communication study by Albert Mehrabian has shown that a lot of communication comes through non-verbal communication and when we are unsure about words and when we trust the other person less, we pay more attention to what we hear and see.
PR Professionals must therefore be cognizant that in a crisis situation, stakeholders are actively trying to determine the truth. Stakeholders will instinctively scrutinize every news release and media moment in search of clues to assess the truthfulness of the company’s statements and the credibility of the company spokesperson. Incongruency in body language and actions taken will discredit the spokesperson and any message that the crisis communicator is trying to deliver.
In short, in a crisis communication situation, PR Professionals must not only ensure the accuracy and appropriateness of the words used but also the “tone”. This is because the unspoken word is as important, if not more, than the spoken ones.