As we begin to understand the significance and meaning of color in crisis, we will see that our mood or color is an extremely important dimension of crisis communication. We are familiar with such expressions as “The life of the party,” “Laughter is contagious,” and others suggesting that our mood has the power to affect or infect. People in crisis may cause us to feel angry, anxious, depressed, indifferent, and so on, affecting our mood by the power of their own. The converse is also true. Our mood or tone has the power to affect or influence the mood of the individual in crisis. For example, if we respond to anger with anger, the person in crisis will tend to become even more angry. If we respond to anxiety and fear by becoming anxious and fearful, the person will tend to become even more anxious and afraid. If we respond to the immobilized mood of a black crisis by becoming emotionally immobilized ourselves, it will have the effect of making the black crisis even more black, to whatever extent that is possible.
Our mood or color is, then, an important dimension of the crisis intervention process and is an important aspect of crisis communication. If we know that anger begets anger, it is important for us to respond to a yellow crisis in a concerned but thoughtful manner. If we know that depression begets depression, then it is important to respond to a black crisis in a friendly, interested, somewhat happy way. Since we know the kinds of mood or tone that tend to exacerbate or irritate various kinds of crisis situations, it is important for us intentionally to avoid making matters worse. We do this by consciously and caringly controlling our mood or color in a way that has the best and most desirable effect on the person in crisis.
Our response to a crisis should always be in shades of blue, that is, we always want to convey a mood of calmness; a sense of control; a feeling that we understand, care, and will be able to help the individual resolve his crisis. Our response to crisis is never yellow. There is a rule worth remembering: In crisis situations, there is room for only one person to be anxious or afraid—and that person is not you. Your mood is blue; it is calm and calming. As the individual’s anxiety, fear, apprehension, and confusion in his yellow crisis is filtered through your blue screen, the individual will calm down, slow down, and begin to think more clearly and plan ahead. Similarly, your color is never red. Anger pushes people away, makes them more agitated. A quiet blue from you will gradually slow down and calm down the individual’s anger. By adopting a blue mood, you can gradually absorb and refocus the individual’s anger and frustration. It is unlikely that an individual will strike out at someone or something if you quietly and caringly let him “get out” his anger and indignation. Blue takes the red out of crisis.
It is always a dark blue for a black crisis. One of the few absolute rules in crisis intervention is that we never, never respond to a black crisis with red or yellow. The individual is quite slowed down. The now potential is that he may just stop altogether. We must realize that he is almost motionless and hypersensitive to emotions in others. In a black crisis, we must start with a mood or color very close to that of the individual in crisis. From there, we gradually and very tentatively lighten or change our mood to a lighter shade of blue as the individual begins to come out of his black crisis. A dark blue mood on our part must be very gradually lightened, all the while remaining sensitive to slight changes and fluctuations in the mood of the individual. Responding to a black crisis is a very slow, gradual process that requires our extreme patience and sensitivity.
Crises, then, come in red, yellow, and black; our response comes in carefully and caringly controlled shades of blue; however, it may help to think about what mood or tone our words communicate. For example, to say to a child, “That’s horrible,” communicates a somewhat different tone than would be conveyed if we were to have said, “That’s not very good.” If we say to our spouse, “Why in the hell did you do that?” we have communicated a different feeling or mood than would have been conveyed had we said, “What was your thinking when you did that?” It may be helpful to practice listening to the things people say and listening to the mood or tone communicated by the specific words they use. As you read the phrases and sentences below, consider the mood or tone communicated by the words.
That was a dumb thing to do.
That may not have been your best choice.
You’re acting like a raving maniac.
You seem really angry.
You seem like death warmed over.
You seem really depressed.
You’re sure acting crazy.
You don’t seem like yourself today.
I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but you’re going to have to get yourself straightened out.
I’m worried about you. Can I help?
Understanding the impact of your words and wording and seeing that they, by themselves, convey a mood or tone will increase your ability to convey a blue mood to people in crisis and will increase your effectiveness in crisis intervention.