Similarities between individual and corporate communications

Written by Jim Walsh

There was a time when I was regularly asked: “What is PR?” or “What do you do?”

It doesn’t happen so often these days because Public Relations is now well accepted as a business discipline.

Ignoring the formal definitions my standard response is usually to describe PR in terms of an individual. We all communicate, actively or unconsciously with family, friends, work colleagues, neighbours, casual acquaintances, local shopkeepers etc.

Each of those groups sees us in a different way. What they know and how they react or how they view us stems from how we communicate with them, the environment in which this communication happens and what they know about us from this communication.

Organisations are no different but they need to more actively manage the process of communicating with different groups who have an interest in them.

I had not equated the similarities between organisations and individuals in terms of a crisis situation until recently, when I came across ’Music and Madness’, the autobiography of Ivor Browne.

Browne, now retired, is a well-known psychiatrist in Ireland. He studied in the UK and US and while at the Harvard Medical School he worked with the late Gerard Caplan.

Caplan was a world-renowned child and community psychiatrist and the originator of the modern practice of mental health consultation. His main interest at the time Browne worked with him was in ‘accidental crises’, traumatic events, which might or might not happen to an individual at a given time. These could be either major catastrophes affecting a whole section of society or individual crises, a death, job loss or a broken relationship.

On reading this book, the similarities between individuals and organisations came even more sharply into focus.  While organisations face crises which are either self-inflicted, conflict-led or when the organisation is the victim, individuals also face crises within a range of circumstances. An individual’s crisis can be precipitated by external events, changes in social/cultural environment or biological, internal change.

Another similarity in the way individuals or organisations face a crises is the opportunity for personality growth and development. Caplan says that the outcome of an individual’s crisis depends not just on the nature of the crisis itself but on how it is handled and whether the person manages to deal with it effectively. He says that if we did not have to face the stress of life crises, we would not develop at all.

The same is true of managers handling a corporate crisis. Being prepared for the unexpected and handling the fall-out successfully can be a major personal development milestone for those individuals involved as well as a benefit for their organisation.

It never ceases to amaze me how we can glean new insights into communication from the most unlikely of sources.

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