On the merits of transparency in crisis: Effects of answering vs. evading through the lens of deception theory.

Abstract: This article applies interpersonal deception theory (IDT) to crisis communication. As strategic communicators, spokespeople representing organizations in crisis often evade questions in media interviews. Upper management and legal counsel tend to prefer evasive language over directly answering questions. Normative crisis communication, however, exhorts honest and straightforward language. In Experiment 1, a company spokesperson either evades or directly answers questions during a media interview. Consistent with IDT, truth and completeness in the messaging mediate the effect of a spokesperson being perceived as less trustworthy when evading, which hampers the organization’s reputation. The results replicate in Experiment 2, in which a spokesperson replies to questions in a media interview through varying degrees of narratives including on-topic narratives, off-topic (spin) storytelling, and nonnarrative answers. On-topic narratives and nonnarratives both serve as viable strategies – bolstering the spokesperson’s trustworthiness and the organization’s reputation – through the messaging components of truth, completeness, clarity, and relevance.

open access: https://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/ETCSUIBYJFJZYTAXSVFX/full?target=10.1080/1553118X.2020.1836644