A new year is upon us. With ongoing concerns about COVID-19, variants, and vaccine hesitancy, risk communication will continue to hold a prominent place in stakeholder communications.

The following are twenty-two quick lessons on risk communication, taken from Dr. Vincent Covello’s online video-based course Pathway to Risk, High-Concern, and Crisis Communication.

22 Lessons for 2022

Corresponding class modules are included after each lesson.


Risk communication can be defined as the sharing and exchange of information among interested parties about the nature, magnitude, significance, or control of a risk. (Module 1)


Effective risk communication creates a place for participation and dialogue where people can engage in an interactive process that is designed to be thoughtful, solution-oriented, cooperative, and collaborative. (Module 1)


People in risk situations typically want to know that you care before they care what you know. (Module 1)


Trust determination theory states that trust is the most powerful factor influencing how people make risk-related decisions. (Module 2)


Negative dominance theory states that people under stress put much more weight on negative information than on positive information. (Module 2)


Only when trust has been established can other communication goals, such as informed decision-making and constructive dialogue, be achieved. (Module 3)


At its most fundamental, trust is built on the belief that a risk, high-concern, or crisis manager or communicator will not ask others to do what they themselves would not be willing to do. (Module 3)


Individual or small group settings, such as open houses, information exchanges, and public workshops, are typically among the most effective forums and venues for delivering messages that gain trust. (Module 3)


People who are stressed and emotionally charged typically experience cognitive difficulties, including difficulty hearing, understanding, and remembering information. (Module 4)


When a person experiences mental noise, they typically process information at four or more grade levels below their respective education level. (Module 4)


Nobel Prize winner Professor Daniel Kahneman observed that the human brain typically puts more weight on negative messages than on positive messages. (Module 5)


Controlling for other variables, the human brain filters, stores, and recalls unpleasant memories and experiences more than it stores and recalls positive memories and experiences. (Module 5)


Negative dominance and loss aversion often lead to a marked preference and demand by people for messages about risks or threats expressed as absolutes rather than messages about risks or threats expressed as probabilities. (Module 5)


Perceptions are driven more by feelings than facts when feelings and facts collide. (Module 6)


People will often accept risks or threats as much as 1,000 times greater if they are voluntary and perceived to be under their personal control. (Module 6)


One of the most important tools available to communicators for high-concern situations, the “message map” allows communicators to quickly and concisely deliver information. (Module 7)


Message mapping is rooted in the fact that in high-stress situations the “rational” parts of the brain (the front lobes) often cede control to the amygdala (or lizard parts) of the brain (fight, flight, freeze). (Module 7)


The process used to generate message maps can be as important as the end product. (Module 7)


Cultural competency requires knowledge and understanding of the values and core beliefs that lie beneath the surface of observed behaviors, verbal, and nonverbal communication. (Module 8)


The way people communicate the same message varies widely between and within cultures. (Module 8)


Nonverbal communications can provide more than 75 percent of message content related to trust, with nonverbal information enhancing or diminishing the chances that information will be heard, understood, and trusted. (Module 9)


Visual information is typically processed faster than verbal information. (Module 9)

Pathway Prompt: What risk communication lessons are at the forefront of your thoughts as you enter the new year?

Communicating Effectively When Feelings, Fears, and Facts Collide

More information about risk, high-concern, and crisis communication can be found in Dr. Covello’s video-based course Pathway to Risk, High-Concern, and Crisis Communication.

This master class introduces communicators to the tools and techniques for communicating effectively—while providing greater insight into why audiences react the way they do during times of stress.

The course comprises nine video lectures and accompanying text modules, plus supplemental materials for putting valuable lessons into practice. More information about the course, including group rates and partnering opportunities, can be found by emailing info@pathwaycommunication.com.

Dr. Vincent Covello

Dr. Vincent Covello, director of the Center for Risk Communication, is one of the world’s leading experts and practitioners on risk, high-concern, and crisis communication. He is the author of more than 150 articles in scientific journals and the author/editor of more than 20 books.