Practitioners of risk, high-concern, and crisis communication always keep in mind a simple but important principle:

People in high-stress situations often want to know that you care before they care what you know.

It isn’t always easy to show audiences that you care, but tools are available to address this challenge.

Of these tools, templates for crafting responses are among the most useful.

The CCO Template

The most powerful of these templates is the CCO template, otherwise known as the Compassion, Conviction, Optimism tool.

The CCO template is the single most powerful tool in the toolbox of a risk, high-concern, and crisis communicator. The template is so important because it directly addresses the issue of trust, which is the cornerstone for effective communication.

The CCO template calls for the following three messages.

The First Message: Compassion

The first C in the tool calls for the strongest type of caring: compassion. Think of the words spoken by the philosopher George Bernard Shaw: “The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity.”

Caring is also communicated by authentic and active listening (“I hear what you are saying”) and authentic empathy (“I can only imagine what you are feeling”).

The Second Message: Conviction

The second C in the template calls for a message of conviction, commitment, or firm belief.

What message of conviction would inform and reassure your audience?

The Third Message: Optimism

The O in the template calls for a message of optimism, hope, and self-efficacy or group efficacy.

What message of hope would you like to impart to your audience?

Communicating Effectively When Feelings, Fears, and Facts Collide

More information about similar communication tools can be found in module two of 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

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. Dr. Covello is a consultant, writer, and teacher. He is a frequent keynote speaker and has conducted communication skills training for thousands.