As I’ve been recovering from a self-inflicted accident, I have started to marvel at the human body’s ability to carry out crisis communication.
Instead of a news wire, the body uses an intricate telegraph system comprised of the nerves that run throughout our bodies. When a crisis happens, a key message is immediately sent to our main target audience – the brain – indicating a strong opinion about what happened and suggesting immediate further action. Of course, that message is usually one of disapproval but more subtle messages are also sent.
I recently cut one of my fingers quite badly while I was cooking. The immediate message to my brain was to stop what I was doing and the body used pain to send a clear signal that further cutting of fingers would not be tolerated. As I was being rushed to the emergency ward, the body approved what the brain had decided to do and showed empathy with endorphins which dulled the pain.
Similar things happened during treatment. The body and the brain often had differences of opinion. The body felt it had the crisis under control and responded negatively to any attempt by the brain to treat the area. When the finger was properly bandaged however the body conceded that treatment was improving the situation.
From time to time, a “pain press release” was sent out to remind the brain that the initial action is still considered intolerable and that all treatment is being monitored by a watch dog committee. If that committee doesn’t like what it sees, the body warns, more pain or even infection could be used to force the brain to modify treatment.
The lessons we can take as communicators are obvious. In a crisis an immediate, clear response directed toward a target audience is essential. We need to be empathetic when it is appropriate but not alter our interpretation of events. And even as the crisis comes under control we need to be vigilant and respond quickly and clearly to any new developments.
As our bodies and our brains do, we must work closely together with our audiences to communicate clearly even when we don’t agree.