Nov / Dec 2003
Issue 11
Volume 8

In This Issue

Transform Your Explanations to Get Your Messages Accepted
Crisis Communication 101
Grammar Trap: Perceptively vs. Perceptibly

Transform Your Explanations to Get Your Messages Accepted

If you have messages to convey that contradict your audiences' intuitive understanding or entrenched beliefs--and that's most of you--read "Transformative Explanations: Writing to Overcome Counterintuitive Ideas", in the October 2003 issue of the Journal of Extension (JOE).


In communication research, an entrenched but erroneous belief is called a "lay theory," and a "transformative explanation" is one that "transform[s] an inadequate, counterproductive lay theory to a more explicit, adequate one."

Basically, the idea is that, when you are conveying a message that contradicts an intuitive, entrenched belief, your audience is much more likely to accept it if you acknowledge the "apparent plausibility" of their belief before you proceed to set them straight. That's much more effective than starting with "the truth" or--even worse--"you're wrong."


So, what exactly do we mean by a lay theory? The author cites the beliefs that:
  • We see objects (when what we really see is the light reflected from them),
  • A vehicle passenger would be able to keep hold of a child held in his or her lap in the event of a collision (when the momentum of a 20-pound child at 30 miles per hour exceeds any human's strength), and
  • Plants grow because they consume water and soil nutrients (when they grow because they use light energy to synthesize tissue).
An example I can think of is the belief many people have that Asian Lady Beetles bite (when what they really do is pinch).

The article describes the five key elements of a transformative explanation and provides an example of a transformative explanation that incorporates those elements.

The JOE article is about written explanations, but seems to me that the same principles hold when you're talking, too.

Laura Hoelscher [email]

Crisis Communication 101

In a crisis, such as a flood or disease outbreak, how you communicate is critical.

Here are some of the worst and best things you can do when communicating during a crisis.


  • Winging it/Shooting from the hip: Don't just assume you know how to handle a sudden crisis. You need to fully understand your role in the situation as well as the roles of your counterparts. Be sure you have all the available facts before you start talking to the public.
  • Being silent: In critical circumstances, silence is NOT golden. The media and/or your audiences may be relying on your expertise. If you aren't ready and willing to speak up, you may lose credibility and the opportunity to educate the public.
  • Downplaying the situation: Downplaying can only get you into trouble. If you downplay the severity of a situation, you may inadvertently put people at risk--and tick them off, too.
  • Being entrenched: Often a crisis requires a change in attitude and in existing protocols. You should be ready to adjust as needed.


  • Showing compassion: It's important to recognize--and acknowledge--what your audience is experiencing.
  • Saying it over and over again: Crisis communication is much like advertising. It often takes an audience on average of five times to hear a message before it is understood.
  • Recognizing and accepting responsibility: You need to be upfront with your audience. When it is necessary to change or make a correction, do so in an open and honest manner.
  • Being swift, decisive, and real: During a crisis, an audience expects information immediately. As a reliable source, your responses should demonstrate quick thinking and decisiveness. This will help make your audience feel secure and confident in a time of uncertainty. (Note: Quick thinking takes place when you have the facts, while shooting from the hip takes place in the absence of the facts.)
  • Planning for the unexpected: No crisis or disaster can be planned to the very last detail; however, your area of expertise and possible past experience may enable you to prepare ahead of time for potential crisis scenarios.
  • Listening: Listening to other response agencies, victims of the crisis, and community members not directly affected will help you determine what information needs to be communicated and better understand the needs of your audience.
Abigail Borron [ ]

Grammar Trap: Perceptively vs. Perceptibly

At last! I'd seen these two adverbs confused quite a few years ago and have been waiting for a second instance so I could make this "trap" a topic. Then came last Sunday's New York Times Magazine.

"Perceptively" means to do something in a way that shows great perception or understanding.

Example: The editor perceptively explained how the author could improve the publication.

"Perceptibly" means to do something in a way that can be perceived or noticed.

Example: The author was perceptibly relieved when the editor explained how the publication could be improved. (Sometimes, authors are perceptibly upset when they get their edits.)

Do you have a grammar (or usage) trap you'd like to see discussed? Do you have a tip that will help the rest of us avoid one? If so, please let me know.

Visit our archive for past "Grammar Traps."

Laura Hoelscher

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