UK government misreads depth of coronavirus despair and what to do about it

By Jim James,

Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast

Any leader should correctly identify the target market before engaging with people, and that can be done with the help of Significance Systems. Dr. John Ricketts of Significance Systems and his team have published a report on how the British have been feeling and expressing emotion online and through discussions since March of 2020. Over the last six months, there has been a growing sense of despair, so this highlights the need for entrepreneurs and politicians to know how to send the right message to the audience at the right time, because understanding what people are thinking before speaking is a fundamental part of the communications program. As mentioned in Wiio’s law, messages can be misunderstood, because the people reading them might not in the same frame of mind as as the speaker.

Significance Systems report

In the Significance Systems report, there is an axis with emotions being expressed by the British population through the correspondence and discussions they’re having online, and those include the following: a state of belonging, optimism, fearlessness, hope, alarm, grief, confusion, panic, fear, despair, anger, resignation, and anxiety, with the positive emotions on the top and negative emotions at the bottom. In March, there was a peak of optimism, belonging, hope, and fearlessness. Along with that, there was also some anxiety and fear. Overall, people were feeling unsure but relatively optimistic.

As time progressed from April into May, there was a growing amount of panic, confusion, fear, and anger. In June, people felt as though the problem was going away, due to a small sense of belonging, hope, and optimism. There was less fearlessness than in March, but there was also some fear and despair. By the end of June, there was a sense of normality as well as grief. In July and early August, there were the beginnings of a lot of hope, optimism, and the sense of belonging as well as fear, despair, anger, and anxiety. 

The government appears to be underestimating the degree of anxiety, fear, despair, and the first wave of panic in the country. As the UK enters another period of lockdown, the fear is that the situation is only going to get worse. The sentiment around this second lockdown revolves around despair, anger, and grief, and if the government remains tone-deaf to the anxiety of the public, then the messages will become increasingly out of alignment with what the people need. 

This Significance Systems report shows that the depth of fear is nearly two times greater than the sense of belonging, optimism, and hope, making this a major issue for policyholders and communicators, but also for the people at large. This report can also be used to draw out a narrative to manage the corporate or public relations exercise, and central to this is the need to assuage people’s fear and anxiety regarding important aspects of their lives such as health and work. With many jobs put on hold once again due to lockdown, people worry about how they will get through the winter. 

SPEAK|pr: Know

Communications strategies need to address all the different audience groups, which are the internal or the team, the partners, and the external which will be the general public in this case. As companies or individuals work out their messaging, they need to consider the sentiment of the people before communicating. They must listen before speaking, so the tone and the manner of the messaging will be appropriate.

The ‘K’ in the SPEAK|pr program stands for Know, and products and services like that of Significance Systems enables people to conduct an analysis of communications at a low cost. And as people are going through change or a trigger event like lockdown or elections, it’s more important than ever to understand the audience and their mentality, because as Wiio’s law of communication suggests, only a fraction of what is communicated will be understood in the manner it was meant to be understood. It suggests that there are at least 10 filters that anybody will have between the message sent to them and the message that they understand, and some of these are cultural language readiness, disparity between where the speaker and reader are at, social status, and so on. 

Showing the depth of feeling and resentment towards the current policies is something communicators within the government need to understand before they send out their messaging with the goal of fostering that sense of belonging, optimism, fearlessness and hope, which is what every leader will want to do for their community, for their team, or for their customers. Without a doubt, knowing what people are thinking before communicating must be a fundamental part of any communications platform. 

This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.

Cover Photo by Adam Nieścioruk on Unsplash

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