32 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 79 PART 1 JANUARY 2021
thy if you do not know how people are feeling. This may require research,
focus groups, polling or a less formal analysis. Empathy also requires
acknowledging how people feel and what they are going through. To build
trust, we also need to communicate openness. This means taking the time
to explain what you know and do not know and having two-way conversations.
It also means being open to questions and avoiding combativeness.13
As the pandemic spirals into a second wave, the careful communication
groundwork laid by Dr. Henry has created a valuable reservoir of public
goodwill and support that will serve us well as new orders and guidelines
restrict social gatherings to household members only and make masks
mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces. Yes, there is and will continue
to be pushback, which makes bringing the pandemic under control more
of a challenge. But, for the most part, people are willing to do what is
Most of us will never find ourselves at the forefront of a crisis as sustained
and difficult as this pandemic. Nevertheless, these lessons on message discipline
and speaking from the heart are something to consider for when
things do go wrong.
A crisis can be a test of character. The intense scrutiny that comes in a
high-profile crisis carries huge risks, and potential rewards. People are
watching for two things: the competence you demonstrate in dealing with
the crisis and the concern you show for others, for public safety and for collective
interests like the environment. If you put your own interests to the
fore, people will punish you long after the crisis abates. But if you concentrate
on doing the right thing and communicate it effectively, you may
come away with a reputation that is better than it was going in.
1. James Hoggan, I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: The
Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean It
Up, 2nd ed (New Society, 2019), ch 9.
2. Russell Muirhead & Nancy L Rosenblum, A Lot of
People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the
Assault on Democracy (Princeton University Press,
3. Seema Yasmin & Craig Spencer, “‘But I Saw It on
Facebook’: Hoaxes Are Making Doctors’ Jobs
Harder”, The New York Times (28 August 2020),
4. Elizabeth Kolbert, “Why Facts Don’t Change Our
Minds”, The New Yorker (20 February 2017), online:
5. Paul Slovic, The Feeling of Risk: New Perspectives on
Risk Perception (Routledge, 2010).
7. Personal communication with Paul Slovic.
8. Abbigail J Tumpey, David Daigle & Glen Nowak,
“Communicating During an Outbreak or Public
Health Investigation” in Sonja A Rasmussen &
Richard A Goodman, eds, The CDC Field Epistemology
Manual (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
2018), ch 12, online: <www.cdc.gov/
9. Hoggan, supra note 1, ch 25.
10. Edward Maibach, “Increasing Public Awareness and
Facilitating Behavior Change: Two Guiding Heuristics”
in Thomas E Lovejoy & Lee Hannah, eds, Biodiversity
and Climate Change: Transforming the
Biosphere, 2nd ed (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 2019) 336.
11. Tumpey, Daigle & Nowak, supra note 8.
12. Maibach, supra note 10 at 340.
13. Tumpey, Daigle & Nowak, supra note 8.