The rules of reality construction


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Reality Construction Rule #1: Control the Context 

Leaders often cannot control events, but they can control the context under which events are seen if they recognize a framing opportunity

Some leaders disparage communication as something they just do automati- cally. They may also label communication “mere rhetoric,” “window dressing,” or “just words” because it cannot change the hard cold facts of a situation. True as that observation may be, however, it falls far short of being complete. 

Consider the situation Robert E. Murray—chairman of the Murray Energy Corporation and co-owner of the Crandall Canyon mine in Utah— faced on August 6, 2007, when the mine caved in with six miners trapped 


The Reality of Framing 3 


inside. It was perhaps the most important communications challenge of his career, and it serves to illustrate the effect of most of the rules in this chapter. As soon as news of the collapse reached him, he could be sure that anxious 

families, the mining community, and the press would hang on his every word. But could any communication by him change the reality of a mine collapse with six entombed miners? 

Of course, neither words nor symbols can alter the physical or material conditions of our world (although they may influence our perceptions of them). However, communications can play a huge role in many other issues surrounding a mine collapse—the comfort and rescue effort updates to the families and mining community; the moral and legal assignment of blame that could ultimately prove costly in a court of law; the efforts at image man- agement for Murray Energy Corporation and its partner that could be key to future business and treatment by federal regulators; the treatment of the press as a means to an end in this regard, and many more. 

Robert Murray was not in Utah at the time of the collapse, but upon hearing of it, he reportedly boarded a private jet and was at the Crandall Canyon site within hours, taking command of the rescue operation and giving frequent media updates.3 Although not all situations so clearly mark their communication exigencies, Murray appeared to recognize an important com- munication opportunity with the mine collapse. This was his chance to frame reality, and he took it. But was he competent in his crisis communications? 

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