The Power to See Beyond the Symptoms

I love a great sale! As I have matured I do not shop nearly as much as I once did, but when I do shop now, I rarely buy anything regular price. There is a profound joy that I experience at getting something valuable at a significantly reduced cost.  With that being said, some of my favorite places to shop are outlet malls. There is just a special joy that I experience in knowing that I got more…for less.

The joy I describe above is also what I am experiencing with my graduate school experience. I have learned so much more than what I expected. My education is not only expanding my communication sight (figuratively, speaking), it is also transforming my personal and business relationships.

Every week, I am increasing my application of communications literacy to a personal or professional situation. For example, this week I had a major event for one of my clients. Local, boutique owners had the opportunity to showcase their clothes in a fashion show for an annual event hosted by our area’s largest minority-owned radio station. The entire experience was a huge lesson for me in on-the-spot crisis communication. The shop owners enlisted a dance troupe to be the entertainment for the show opener for a fee. The dance troupe’s owner passed the fee along to the parents of the young ladies in the dance troupe. Later, the parents learned that if the dancers were going to stay at the event after the show, a ticket would have to be paid for the dancer. So, the parents learned that after paying $150 per child to be in the show, they would now have to pay another $60 for a seat for their child.  The parents were outraged and the shop owners were depending on me, the project manager, to talk to the parents. I immediately went into crisis communication mode as “the unexpected emerge[d] and require[d] discernment and action” (Arnett, Fritz, & Bell, 2009, p. 210).

I explained to the parents that the radio station had changed the time of the show from 3:30 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. which resulted in the children now needing seats. With the original time slot, the event would have been half way over and the parents would have most likely seen the parts of the event that would have wanted to see, such as the keynote speaker. With the time slot, the children’s performance would have taken place two hours before the speaker so if the parents wanted to stay for it, their child would also have to have a seat.

This situation was important not only because these are my clients, but because all of the participants are a part of our community. It is important that we can all get along and work together. It is good for us economically and it is vital that we teach our children how to resolve conflict effectively. It is also important that when we can, we create win-wins for everyone at the table. If someone feels as though they are unimportant or do not matter than that negativity breeds contempt and produces bad feelings and bad publicity. I was able to explain to my clients that because they are in the process of building a brand they need to avoid negative interactions at all costs.

As much as I wish crisis communication was only needed in professional settings that is not the case. As I was visiting some friends recently, I was placed in several uncomfortable spots as they begin to argue and ask me to take a side. Now, unknown to them, I am referred to as the “Swiss Miss” in my family because I am known for my neutrality like Switzerland. As humorous as most people find this, all joking aside, I believe strongly in the art of compromise. This belief is aligned with one of the communication ethic metaphors in our reading: “The pragmatic demand is to learn and investigate ways of negotiating contending goods” (Arnett, Fritz, & Bell, 2009, p. 212). These contending goods make crisis communication more necessary than ever.

This situation with my friends has become more increasingly common, even with my married friends. There was a time when couples were ashamed to argue in public; however, we live in a different historic moment. The difference in this societal good requires a different type of discipline and discernment when these types of situations arise.

The key is to understanding that “crisis communication begins with the contention of goods that disrupts the public sphere” (Arnett, Fritz, & Bell, 2009, p. 213). After understanding that the next step is to be ready to assist in the negotiating between the contending views.

In my case, I was able to take the disagreement that my friends (a married couple) were having and turn it to a discussion that led to the conclusion that the issue that they were arguing about was really not the issue at all. The argument was a symptom of a larger issue. I explained to them my suggesting how silly it would seem to go to the doctor for allergy symptoms but to only ask the doctor for something to stop the sneezing. Well, sneezing is a symptom of allergies, but in reality, what is needed is a medication or treatment to target the allergies. The allergies are the issue. This seemed to make sense to them, especially in pollen-invested North Carolina.

I was able to understand how their individual goods were in conflict with one another and used a discussion with care and discernment to get to the larger issue. I believe that I will continue to expand my knowledge and application of communication ethics as a result of taking this course and my completing my graduate studies at Queens.


Arnett, R.C., Bell, L. M., & Fritz, J.M. (2009). Communication Ethics Literacy: Dialogue and Difference. Sage Publications.


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