In addition to communicating risk information, risk communicators often have to communicate information about the very definition of risk communication to leaders, stakeholders, teammates, and other interested parties.

While this branch of communication resides within a complex, ever-evolving field, the five key messages that follow provide an easy way to start the education process.

Origin of the Five Messages

The literature on risk communication has grown rapidly over the past five decades. Hundreds of articles and books have focused on the challenges of communicating information about risks of exposures to health, safety, environmental, and occupational risk agents.

It could also be argued that the COVID era has resulted in an all-time-high level of interest in risk communication. Risk communications might even be thought to occupy a greater percentage of all communications than ever before (a worthy subject of study in its own right).

As discussed in Research Base Powers Risk, High-Concern, and Crisis Communication, the theories of risk communication are backed up by an extensive—and growing—base of science and research.

Five Key Messages for Risk Communication

As shown below, there are at least five key messages from the research on risk communication.

  1. Risk communication is central to informed decision-making.
  2. Guidelines exist to help risk communicators present information effectively.
  3. People in risk situations typically want to know that you care before they care what you know.
  4. People in risk situations typically have difficulty hearing, understanding, and remembering information.
  5. People in risk situations typically focus more on negative information than on positive information.

Spread the Word

Risk, high-concern, and crisis communication has never been more important or so widely influential in all areas of our lives.

With more and more workplaces demanding this specialized skill, you will give your leaders and other constituents a boost toward greater understanding by sharing with them the five preceding principles.

Pathway Prompt: How do you explain what is meant by risk communication to those unfamiliar with the term?

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

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.