From crisis management to public relations, trauma-informed communication ensures empathy and clarity during Canadian Victims and Survivors of Crime Week and beyond

While most communicators are not equipped to ‘treat’ trauma, we have a responsibility to minimize the risk of causing further harm and re‑traumatization through all communication touchpoints—especially during periods of crisis or change.

Whether it’s public disclosures of a corporate leader’s misconduct, a community speech in the aftermath of a major natural disaster or mass casualty, or internal communications relating to a near-fatal workplace injury—communications that are both trauma-informed while clear and effective cannot be understated.

As we mark Canadian Victims and Survivors of Crime Week from May 12 to 18, 2024, our team at Argyle reflects on how we incorporate the Government of Canada’s key principles of trauma-informed approaches to communications.

Principle #1: Understanding Trauma

The first principle is to understand that trauma—the experience of, and response to, an overwhelmingly negative event or series of events—can arise from many places, affects us all differently and has a pervasive impact on individuals’ lives. Once this is understood, we can communicate more empathetically, without requiring disclosure of our audience’s personal experiences. The reality is that most of us have been directly, or indirectly, affected by trauma or violence. In fact, 64.9% of adults in Canada report experiencing at least one potentially psychologically traumatic event (PPTE) in their lifetime.

Organizations can demonstrate their understanding of trauma in public communications by identifying and verbalizing the possible impact of an incident on a group’s experiences and the challenges they may be facing. Acknowledging the normalcy of strong, negative emotions that stakeholders may feel after things go wrong helps foster a sense of understanding in your communications.

Principle #2: Creating Emotionally and Physically Safe Spaces

When sharing information through online channels, upholding standards for emotionally safe spaces is essential to minimizing harm for community members. An example of this principle in action includes social media community management that enforces robust moderation policies to protect users from harmful interactions on the brand’s social platforms. This includes having a clear, accessible process for reporting harassment and maintaining an online presence that is responsive and empathetic when users reach out with concerns. Online audiences should receive timely and considerate responses to not only help in handling individual cases of distress but to build a general atmosphere of trust and safety.

Principle #3: Promoting Choice and Collaboration

The third principle, choice and collaboration, helps reinforce autonomy and self-determination. For those who have experienced trauma, having a sense of control is crucial, as trauma often involves situations where their power was undermined.

As communications practitioners, we can offer various choices to our audiences, especially in the ways they receive information. This could include:

  • Soliciting input from the target audience following a traumatic incident on their preferred channel for communication or feedback (i.e., in-person vs. anonymous online)
  • Ideal timing of updates (i.e., morning or night, weekday vs. weekend)
  • The cadence of updates (i.e., communications to those most affected by an incident first before the broader community or media).

Principle #4: Strengths-Based Approach

Implementing a strengths-based approach involves recognizing and articulating the inherent strengths within an audience. Brands can use this approach by acknowledging a community’s courage and determination during challenging times. This not only affirms their experience but also bolsters their self-perception of resilience and capability. This type of messaging serves to empower individuals, helping them see their own power in overcoming adversity, which plays a crucial role in reducing the risk of further harm.

These guiding principles are beneficial in any context

Implementing trauma-informed communication practices requires effort but offers significant rewards—in any context—by creating an environment where all stakeholders feel acknowledged, valued, and supported.

Are you looking to enhance your communication strategies with trauma-informed principles? Argyle is here to help. Connect with our team to explore how these approaches can benefit your organization or community.

Definitions related to some of the key terms used in this blog, like “trauma” and “violence” can be found in this glossary.

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