Uncertainty Management in Organizational Crisis Communication: The Impact of Crisis Responsibility Uncertainty and Attribution-based Emotions on Publics’ Further Crisis Information Seeking

Journal of Communication Management.

Abstract: Although uncertainty has been identified as a key crisis characteristic and a multi-faceted construct essential to effective crisis management research and practice, only a few studies examined publics’ perceived uncertainty with a focus on crisis severity uncertainty, leaving crisis responsibility uncertainty uninvestigated in organizational crisis settings. To close this research gap empirically, this study employed data from an online survey of a total of 817 U.S. adults to examine how participants’ crisis responsibility uncertainty and their attribution-based crisis emotions, might impact their crisis responses such as further crisis information seeking. First, findings show that participants’ crisis responsibility uncertainty was negatively associated with their attribution-independent (AI) crisis emotions (i.e., anxiety, fear, apprehension, and sympathy) and external-attribution-dependent (EAD) crisis emotions (i.e., disgust, contempt, anger, and sadness), but positively associated with internal-attribution-dependent (IAD) crisis emotions (i.e., guilt, embarrassment, and shame). Second, crisis responsibility uncertainty and AI crisis emotions were positive predictors for participants’ further crisis information seeking. Third, AI crisis emotions and IAD crisis emotions were parallel mediators for the relationship between participants’ crisis responsibility uncertainty and their further crisis information seeking. Organizations need to pay attention to the perceived uncertainty about crisis responsibility and attribution-based crisis emotions since they can impact the decision of seeking crisis information during an ongoing organizational crisis. This study improves uncertainty management in organizational crisis communication research and practice, connecting crisis responsibility uncertainty, attribution-based crisis emotions, and publics’ crisis information seeking.

Xuerong Lu  Yan Jin 

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