Internal crisis communication and the social construction of emotion: university leaders' sensegiving discourse during the COVID-19 pandemic

Yeomans, Liz and Bowman, Sarah (2021) Internal crisis communication and the social construction of emotion: university leaders' sensegiving discourse during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Communication Management, 25 (3). pp. 196-213. ISSN 1363-254X

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Purpose – The paper explores university leaders’ employee-focused sensegiving discourse during the COVID-19 health crisis. The aim is to reveal how leadership sensegiving narratives construct emotion in the rhetor-audience relationship.

Design/methodology/approach – A social constructionist, sensemaking approach centres on the meaning-making discourse of university leaders. Using rhetorical discourse analysis (RDA), the study analysed 67 emails sent to staff during a three-month period at the start of the global pandemic. RDA helps to reveal how university leaders help employees make sense of changing realities.

Findings – Three core narratives: organisational competence and resilience; empathy, reassurance and recognition; and community and location reveal a multi-layered understanding of leadership sensegiving discourse in which emotion intersects with material and temporal sensemaking dimensions. In supporting a process of organisational identification and belonging, these core narratives help to mitigate audience dissonance driven by the antenarrative of uncertainty.

Research limitations/implications – An interpretivist approach was used to analyse qualitative data from two UK universities. While focused on internal communication, the employee perspective was not examined. Nevertheless, this paper extends the human dimension of internal crisis communication, building on constructionist approaches that are concerned with emotion and sense-giving.

Originality/value – This paper expands the domain of internal crisis communication. It integrates the social construction of emotion and sensemaking with the under-explored material and temporal dimensions in internal crisis communication and applies RDA.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Internal communication, Leadership, Rhetoric, Crisis communication
Subjects: L900 Others in Social studies
N200 Management studies
N900 Others in Business and Administrative studies
P900 Others in Mass Communications and Documentation
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Arts
Depositing User: John Coen
Date Deposited: 21 Jun 2021 10:43
Last Modified: 16 Dec 2022 15:45

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