10Uncertainty: Accept Uncertainty and Ambiguity

As we discussed in the introduction, uncertainty is a natural element of crises and crisis communication. Crises and disasters are by definition abnormal, unpredictable, and uncertain events. Many crises occur as surprises, thereby requiring time to assess what has happened, why it has happened, and what steps to take to address the impending damage or threat. Other crises, such as hurricanes, are predictable, but the actual course they will follow and their intensity when making landfall are all uncertain. Accordingly, a best practice of crisis communication is to acknowledge the uncertainty and ambiguity inherent in a crisis situation.

Despite the uncertainty inherent in crises, crisis spokespersons often feel a need to be overly certain and overly reassuring in their messages to publics. This intuitive urge may be largely a consequence of a belief that publics cannot accept uncertainty in situations and need certainty in the face of a crisis, even when information is simply unavailable. Unfortunately, overly reassuring statements in the face of an uncertain and equivocal situation may reduce a spokesperson's credibility. This potential for diminished credibility is particularly high when crises evolve in startling, unpredictable ways.

What Causes Uncertainty for Publics?

Uncertainty occurs when we have difficulty drawing conclusions from the available information. This means we can't predict what will happen. The discomfort ...

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