Health professionals such as doctors and nurses are in a key position to help reduce the high prevalence of affective disorders and psychological problems experienced by cancer patients. This role, however, is inhibited by ineffective communication practices which include the use of distancing strategies and avoidance by the health professional. A number of contributory factors such as skill deficits and anxiety about negative consequences for the patient and the health professional have been identified in previous research and brief problem-focused training workshops developed to address these factors with only limited success. Researchers in applied psychology have recommended that the development of training programmes and their evaluation are based upon approaches which take into account cognitive and affective factors as well as change in skills. The aim of this paper is to develop a conceptual model of communication behaviour in the cancer setting. The model aims to take account of the role that knowledge and skill deficits, self-efficacy and outcome expectancy beliefs and perceived support plays in the ability and willingness of health professionals to assess their patients' concerns. It has been applied to guide the development of a revised approach to brief, problem-focused workshops for health professionals. It also allows a systematic and multi-dimensional evaluation of training outcomes. Preliminary results indicate this is a promising area of communications research.