THE ADVOCATE 29
VOL. 79 PART 1 JANUARY 2021
How do you announce a lockdown in a manner that seems voluntary and
that involves choice so people feel it is under their control and they are
involved with the plan?
Dr. Henry and her communications team opted to elevate persuasion
over coercion. Although her orders have the force of law, she recognized the
need for voluntariness. Whether talking about rule breakers, tougher
enforcement for people violating the “stay home” directive or problems
around people crowding beaches and parks, Dr. Henry emphasized the
need to be patient and kind and to educate each other about the rules.
Early in the pandemic, in response to calls to make face masks mandatory
indoors, Dr. Henry encouraged their use without requiring them. She
was clear that she wears a mask and strongly recommended others wear
them indoors, on transit and in grocery stores, and when they are unable to
maintain distance from other people.
This effort to balance personal freedom and responsibility is a communication
strategy designed to bring the public along—to motivate public
support rather than stir up polarization. It helps that political parties in
British Columbia have, for the most part, avoided political polarization
around the pandemic and have worked with public health authorities outside
FROM THE HEART
The persuasiveness of a message is also driven by perceptions of credibility
and trust. It is clear that Dr. Henry and her team have taken the advice of
the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Field Epidemiology
Manual. As the manual points out, research on risk communication shows
that empathy and caring, honesty and openness, dedication and commitment,
and competence and expertise determine whether a messenger is
seen as trusted and credible.8 Messages on all of these factors were conveyed
in every briefing, but none more than empathy and caring.
Dr. Henry speaks to the “whisper of emotion” that Paul Slovic writes
about. She has emotional conversations with people. Certainly, she shares
facts and information, but what makes her so effective is her fluency in emotional
dialogue. She understands that facts on their own are not enough.
Dr. Henry radiates empathy. She cares about people, and we feel it. She
not only speaks from the heart; she speaks to the heart. The message she
repeats at every briefing is an example: “Be kind, be calm, be safe.” It is an
emotional message that reminds us that we are all in this together. She often
reassures, “This is not forever.” Emotional dialogue is her superpower.
In a crisis, communicators need to speak from the heart, as Dr. Henry
does. At a news conference on September 26, 2020, she said, “I want to