Leaders across industries turn to advisers in the realm of risk, high-concern, and crisis communication for advice on handling situations where trust is paramount. When advisers attempt to help leadership, there’s a simple switch that can ensure their advice is heard.

Consider the two advisers below. Would you be more willing to take the advice of Adviser 1 or Adviser 2?

Adviser 1: “I think that you should …”

Adviser 2: “The research shows that you should …”

While Adviser 1 may be a great, trusted communication professional, the “I think” approach positions the advice as an opinion. As we know, opinions, no matter how solid, are a dime a dozen.

But it’s hard to argue with research, and when leaders go to put your advice into action, they often have other stakeholders to convince as well. Having that research in hand empowers leaders in ways “I think” never could.

This played out time after time for Bob Coble, a longtime advocate of risk communication who enjoyed a distinguished career as a communication official for the Navy, Army, and Department of Defense.

According to Coble, “When I advised my leaders about communications issues, they noted my opinions, but when I explained what the communication research said, they listened closely virtually every time.”

Of course, anyone who wants to be more like Adviser 2 has to have that research in hand. Luckily for communicators, there is no shortage of research backing up the best practices for risk, high-concern, and crisis communication.

The Research

Risk, high-concern, and crisis communication is an extensive field grounded by nearly seventy-five years of research and science. The research base now includes nearly 8,000 articles and 2,000 books.

In 1956, Dr. George Miller, who many now consider the father of psycho-linguistics, first revealed the psychological and physiological effects of stress in his groundbreaking work “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information.”

This work influenced the development of your phone number, Social Security number, length of a tweet, and why you need only dial 911 in an emergency.

In 1983, the field was established with the National Research Council’s publication of “Improving Risk Communication.”

These and other critical works eventually led to the National Academy of Sciences officially recognizing the field as a science in 1989.

Pioneers in the field include Professor Paul Eckman, Peter Sandman, M. Granger Morgan, and Dr. Vincent Covello.

Pathway Prompt: Do you find yourself prefacing advice with “I think that” or “I feel that”? How might this have affected your message?

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.