Conflict & Crisis Communication

“The relationship is the communication bridge between people.”
Alfred Kapustin

Gregory Vecchi (2009) in his abstract entitled “Conflict & Crisis Communication: A Methodology for Influencing and Persuading Behavioral Change” discusses the proper communication styles negotiators and therapists involved in conflict and crisis events need to be skilled at implementing.

Vecchi describes events such as hostage and crisis situations, kidnappings, suicide situations, workplace/school violence and trauma events where proper negotiation skills implemented correctly save lives.

Much of Vecchi’s work is derived from law enforcement negotiation practices and conflict management theory used by therapists who intervene in critical incidents using verbal communication strategies and tactics.

For this article, Vecchi uses the term critical incident to be defined as: “any significant event that negatively disrupts the functions of everyday living and which requires the attention and expertise of those who are specially trained to handle these events” (Vecchi, 2009, p. 34).

Vecchi goes into further detail in this abstract on topics such as:

  • contrasting the difference between conflict and crises events
  • communication approaches in high conflict and crisis situations
  • stages of crisis and goals to connect and establish communication
  • problem solving and advanced communication techniques

Time is a Variable

In conflict and most particularly in crisis situations, time is a quintessential variable and in many cases, the mindset of the person in crisis mode has exceeded his or her ability to cope and possible harm to the individual is heightened.

Rosalie Aldrich states in her research article entitled “The Development of Effective Message Content for Suicide Intervention” the importance for proper crisis intervention: “each year there are over 31,000 suicides in the United States, constituting a significant problem in every respect. It is important for research efforts to focus on the communication elements involved in suicide prevention because the message produced by individuals close to those who have suicidal thoughts have the potential to save a life” (Aldrich & Cerel, 2009, p. 174).

Critical Analysis

Wilmot and Hocker (1998) define conflict as the perceived blocking of important goals, needs or interest of one person or group by another person or group. Crisis is described by Caplan (1961) as that which a person perceives as presenting insurmountable obstacles to achieve desire goals or outcomes.

Vecchi describes the difference in communication for conflict and crises situations stemming from how the individual within the event perceives the action or threat.

Past historical experiences, level of resiliency and coping skills all play a factor in how an individual addresses the situation confronting him.

All of us in our lives have dealt in some form or another with events that can be regarded as conflicts (divorce, differences in opinions) but what makes the situation arise into a crises is where one or both of the parties exceed their ability to cope, usually as a result of feeling hopeless or helpless with respect to meeting their needs (Vecchi, 2009).

Once a crisis event develops and the personal reaction is regarded as in crisis mode, Vecchi describes four goals the negotiator has to implement:

  • establish communication
  • defuse intense emotions
  • buy time
  • gain information for assessing the best intervention strategies and tactics

In support of Vecchi’s steps in regards to negotiation through a crisis situation, an abstract entitled “Gatekeeper Training as a Preventative Intervention for Suicide” by Michael Issac (2009) adds much credence to Vecchi’s premises.

Gatekeeper training is used as a way to train specific groups (volunteers and mental health agency workers) to be able to identify and communicate with individuals at risk for suicide. The training for the Gatekeeper program paralleled certain key points made by Vecchi:

  • preparing – is an introduction to the tone, norms and expectations of a potential suicide
  • connecting – discusses one’s own attitudes toward suicide and their impact on the intervention process and how the communicator is to best communicate with a potential victim
  • understanding – an overview of the intervention needs for someone at risk, which includes knowledge and skills in identifying risk factors and developing a plan to help
  • assisting – presentation of a model for effective suicide prevention and how best to communicate this plan to the one discussing suicide
  • networking – information on local community resources and how to network these resources to the one contemplating suicide


Conflict & Crisis Communication

Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC

Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC is a licensed professional counselor (LPC) in northern Michigan who has a passion for reading, writing, music and helping others. He specializes in counseling complex family situations, substance abuse, and parenting. Steve’s counseling philosophy is holistic, approaching each issue on its own merit and evaluating influences to help overcome life’s dilemmas.


APA Reference
Greenman, S. (2015). Conflict & Crisis Communication. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 10, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 14 Oct 2015
Published on All rights reserved.