Emergency calls are high-stake situations characterized by volatile and time-critical conditions. The use of the telephone restricts sensory perception to a single modality—hearing—which makes both sensemaking and embodied sensemaking more difficult. Using observations, interviews, and organizational documents, we unveil how attention to the non-verbal cues of callers and their surroundings assists emergency operators to make sense of incoming calls for help. We find that operators use two practices to prioritize the calls: a frame-confirming practice and a frame-modifying practice. The practices are underpinned by configurations of verbal and non-verbal cues, wherein caller’s emotional expressions and environmental sounds are both considered as distinct input. The non-verbal focus in this study extends our understanding of first-order sensemaking within the emergency domain but also in other sensory deprived settings in high-consequence industries. The contributions of this analysis to sensemaking research reside in the revelation that non-verbal cues contextualize and consequently frame the discursive elements of sensemaking. More specifically, this research offers the insight that embodies sensemaking benefits from attention being given to callers’ non-verbal cues, rather than valuing only one’s own bodily experiences and mere verbal descriptions about events.
Freely available here: https://authors.elsevier.com/c/1X1p3xscsoXER