The importance of empathy for the effectiveness of organizational crisis communication
This research project proposes that stakeholders’ empathy with an organization in crisis can help us to understand the connection between a crisis situation, crisis communication, and reputation damage. As such, we aim to contribute to fundamental academic research on crisis communication, an aspect of corporate communication which has gained scientific attention in recent years. Past research illustrates that the processes of organizational crisis communication and reputation repair strongly resemble those from interpersonal forgiveness. Organizations that are considered responsible for a crisis should for instance apologize for their actions. In addition, research shows that organizations should self-disclose incriminating information. Previous studies explained these results by means of attributions of organizational crisis responsibility. An organization that is considered responsible should communicate in a manner that reflects responsibility acceptance. Research in social psychology indicates, however, that attributions of responsibility are one of two crucial factors in the forgiveness process. The second factor, the degree to which people experience empathy for an offending party may be even more important, but has not been examined in the context of crisis communication. Therefore, this project examines how empathy with an organization in crisis is established through verbal and non-verbal communication and how this affects an organization’s post-crisis reputation.