Victoria’s State Premier, Daniel Andrews holds an unenviable position. He is responsible for communicating a seemingly endless stream of bad news, to an increasingly anxious and fatigued public.
On Sunday, Andrews declared a state of disaster, and announced an escalation on restrictions, which would see Victoria enter the strictest curfew in Australia’s history.
It was bad news. But it was imperative that the guidelines be followed by all Victorians, placing great importance on the statement.
The Premier’s press statements are the product of hard work from a team of people. The level of detail even makes its way to the clothes Andrews wears.
Strong themes resonate consistently in all the premier’s addresses to the Victorian people and they were present once again on Sunday.
Andrews delivered the news in a manner that succinctly addressed the problem and outlined clear guidelines for its solution. He still however, peppered his communication with rousing appeals to a sense of solidarity, responsibility, and national pride.
A mood is created that suggests following the rules are not only our legal responsibility, but our moral one as well.
His decree that all Victorians wear masks does not rest upon the safety of the individual, but of the community at large.
“By covering your face, you’re protecting your community, and protecting those extra freedoms your community enjoys.
“By covering your face, you’re keeping local businesses open, and keeping local people in work.”
An empathetic tone discourages resistance. Andrews makes sure Victorians understand he is in this with them. He is feeling the pain too. We feel as if we are being addressed by someone who understands us.
Rather than condemning Victorians, he conveys empathy:
“People are visiting friends and family – and taking the virus home with them.
“It makes sense. These are the kind of places we let our guard down. We relax, we get comfortable and we forget all the rules about keeping safe.”
Through repeated use of the word ‘we’ he places himself on the same platform as the people he addresses. He too is an imperfect citizen, and we share a common goal – seeing the end of COVID-19.
Jacinda Arden did this so well when she addressed her nation via Facebook Live from her home. Responding to live questions from her living room after putting her toddlers to bed, she displayed her personal commitment to self-isolation, and an openness and transparency that gave citizens faith.
New Zealand now approaches 100 days without a single case of community transmission.
Whilst emotional appeals hit the heart, data appeals to the brain. Aiding Arden was the fact that the the New Zealand government was one of the first to share the modelling behind its social distancing measures. Citizens were thus provided clear context for the decision.
Andrews plays to these concerns, employing a consistently pragmatic tone, which captures his decisions as rational. This tone is largely realised by a constant emphasis that data and scientific evidence is informing his decision making.
“And the simple truth is, the data…”
It’s an approach that makes sense. However, where Andrews has made himself a target for criticism is his lack of willingness to share, at least in its entirety, the data guiding his policy making.
John Matthews, from Melbourne University’s school of Population and Global Health, warned the state government’s lack of transparency over COVID-19 data has left Victorians “in the dark”. The influx of mystery coronavirus cases has hurt the trust and confidence the Australian people have in their government’s decisions.
It’s a problem we share with many other countries around the world, grappling with how best to use the data. The lack of statistical detail is sharply contrasted with other nations.
In Hong Kong, the government had provided a dashboard for the pandemic, mapping every single case, down to their place of residence.
For instance, a recent case, number 3397, is an anonymised 36-year-old woman, who caught it locally on the 1st of July. Singapore has a similar system, so do South Korea and Belgium. This clear, transparent data allows for predictability in policy response. Communities don’t need to place blind trust in their leaders, they can understand and accept decisions as the product of transparent data.
Andrews is intent on maintaining accountability. He makes a point of answering every question posed to him at these press conferences, even when it means they seem to roll on forever. However, a lack of transparency pertaining to data could continue to undermine him.
He tends to take the bait when a provocative question is thrown in his direction, responding in a irritable tone. For example, he could not resist conveying frustration and addressing questions about conspiracy theories, thereby giving them more prominence. In this case, a non-answer works fine.
Considering the circumstances, Andrews deserves credit. He’s consistently managed to produce statements that could serve as a compassionate example of crisis communications.
Communication isn’t traditional in a dog’s world
My dog friends and I are lucky. We don’t have to wear masks that muffle our speech. Nor do we require speechmakers to help get our points across.
As Barbara would know, I have adopted a plethora of ways to tell her exactly what I am thinking, to ensure that I get what I want.
First off, when I feel like a snack, I know that my heart (and love of food) shines through my eyes. So, I use an ancient technique adopted by my ancestors – staring at the pack leader while they eat, to imply that it’s my turn next.
Although we all know that I am the actual pack leader, I have found that simply STARING when people are eating will ensure that I’ll soon be eating too. This strategy not only alleviates her discomfort, but also ensures that my tummy is left feeling satisfied.
Whilst I have the option to eat at whatever time I want, I must admit that this new one hour per day of exercise restriction is tiresome. Fortunately for me, I know how to tell anyone else within the vicinity when I am bored or need something.
To convey my boredom, I start off by yawning, yes yawning. This subtle act does more than express tiredness, it is a pre-warning gesture to show that if I don’t get my way I will implement phase two of boredom communications process – it starts with a whimper, then a move to whining, then I will give you a tap with my paw, then I will begin to paw you and if that doesn’t work I resort to Phase 3 barking and believe you me my bark is loud and makes people jump!
If I need to be entertained or to go out for personal business (as you do), people will know – they will get the message.
I am able to communicate with humans in far more ways than simply using my eyes and my behaviour (have you heard of the power of a dog tail?) but some tricks are best left secret. I can assure you that my pals and I chat about them in the park each day, but I can’t tell you how we do that either.
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