This multicentre study examined the influence of patient demographic, disease status and psychological variables on clinical geneticists/genetic counsellors (consultants) behaviours in initial consultations with women from high-risk breast cancer families. One hundred and fifty-eight women completed a pre-clinic self-report questionnaire. The consultations were audiotaped, transcribed verbatim and coded. Consultants did not vary their behaviour according to women's expectations. However, significantly more aspects of genetic testing were discussed with women who were affected with breast cancer (P<0.001), screening and management with unaffected women (P=0.01) and breast cancer prevention with younger women (P=0.01). Prophylactic mastectomy was discussed more frequently with women with medical and allied health training (P=0.02), and prophylactic oophorectomy with women affected with breast cancer (P=0.03), those in non-professional occupations (P=0.04) and with a family history of breast and ovarian cancer (P<0.001). Consultants used significantly more behaviours to facilitate understanding with women who were in non-professional occupations (P=0.04); facilitated active patient involvement more with women affected with breast cancer (P<0.001) and used more supportive and counselling behaviours with affected women (P=0.02). This study showed that patient demographics were more likely to predict consultants' communication behaviours than the woman's psychological status. Methods to facilitate assessment of psychological morbidity are needed to allow more tailored communication.