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

Liz Yeomans, Sarah Bowman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)196-213
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Communication Management
Volume25
Issue number3
Early online date18 Jun 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jul 2021

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