How to use crises and politics to better communicate

Political tension and corporate missteps provide new opportunities for students to learn from how power brokers communicate

Politicians and corporations just keep on setting examples, for better or for worse.

Following the escalation of tensions between North Korea and the U.S. and the United Airlines scandal, students would be wise to further scrutinize the actions of politicians and other decision makers. 

There are many lessons to be taken from how politicians and businesses conduct themselves, specifically in high pressure and crisis situations. 

Politicians have dealt with a gauntlet of issues in the last week, including the detainment of an American in North Korea, the buildup of military presence from both sides (the U.S. and North Korea) and the preeminent disaster preparations in Japan all within a few weeks. 

While these developments may not directly affect most students, examining these issues close-up reveals communication techniques that students can apply to their own projects and professional situations. 

"In situations where an issue is developing into a crisis, like with North Korea, being open and honest with communication is especially important," Bradley Adame, an ASU crisis communication professor said. "The individual has to be able to manage ambiguity and frame issues so people can understand what is going on."

Communication and cooperation have helped maintain peace between the U.S. and North Korea up to this point, and students can take many lessons from how both governments conduct themselves and the careful analysis that goes into most of their decisions. 

The Trump administration may not be the most transparent, but it does recognize some of its communication shortcomings. 

In the first month of his presidency, Trump acknowledged that his communication with the rest of his staff was not optimal, but such self-evaluation can be a useful skill for students as well. 

As the semester winds down, students would be wise to exercise strategies of effective communication with their peers when finishing up projects. However, sometimes it can be easier to find lessons in communication by examining when politicians and corporations do not communicate effectively.

United Airlines went through a series of communication mishaps that made its mistreatment of a passenger blow up into a much bigger issue. 

"The CEO failed to exercise proper crisis management or didn't communicate well enough with his people to make sure that they had all the facts and were putting out the right message," Adame said. 

Students have the advantage of being able to watch others make mistakes, and the missteps that United took can be repurposed as important lessons in consistent communication to avoid unnecessary consequences. 

Miscommunication in government is also an excellent case study for students to base their communication strategies on. 

President Trump's penchant for tweeting has upended the way that information normally flows out of the government, eschewing refinement of policy before it is broadcasted to the people. 

"Twitter allows Trump to directly address his followers and effectively make policy without any sort of fact-checking or coordination with his own people in government. With North Korea, neither side is thinking critically or assessing long term consequences from the messages being sent," Adame said. 

Politicians and corporations send an abundance of messages, but students can derive important lessons in communication from what is said and how it is received. 

Observing crises and issues from the outside gives students the enviable ability to learn communication skills from hefty mistakes — without suffering their consequences.

Reach the columnist at or follow @jonahpbaker on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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