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Slam on the Breaks! – The Challenges of Communication and Three Steps to Overcome Them

In addition to the dozens of other hats I wear, I occasionally serve as a technical manuscript editor for a major publisher. In reading the work of others, I’m reminded how profoundly we miscommunicate without realizing it. Some of you read the title for this article, recognizing the non-spellcheckable glaring typo in it.  Think about what you thought when you saw it.


Unreal. Someone should have caught that!

This is one sorry post.

It’s a word. A single word. And yet it screams from a mountaintop about the quality of the work included within.

We think we communicate all the time. We believe communication is taking place. We post blogs. We send e-mail. We answer our cell phones. And yet, in many cases, we’re only really participating in an illusion of communication.

I’d like to suggest a few ways to minimize the illusory nature of communication and clarify what we’re saying:

  • Repetition (sort of)
  • Affirmation (Amen)
  • Echo


Repetition (Sort of)

We really don’t want to repeat ourselves, but in many instances, our message doesn’t get heard the first time around. One trick to overcoming the shortfall of simple repetition is to find different ways to say the same thing. Rather than simply repeating “I need the truck tonight,” try it in different ways. “I’m taking the Christmas tree out to the recycling center tonight. I’ll be using the Ranger.”  And again, “I really don’t want to scratch up the roof of the car with the dried-out Christmas tree. This seems like a truck-worthy event.”  Repeat yourself, and you become obnoxious, but finding different ways to send the same message will clarify and help ensure that your message makes it through (albeit through a different channel).



One powerful way to ensure the message is getting where its going is to seek affirmation. In my Christmas tree example, the sender has the opportunity to gain concurrence from the receiver that his message has been received. While there’s little affirmation to be sought for “I need the truck”, there’s plenty of room for an “Amen!” when you explain that the dried-out, brittle Christmas tree could scratch the roof of your sedan. Getting others to see the logic behind your statements and the insight behind your communications ensures that they hear what you’re saying in the context in which it’s being said. And, if they don’t concur?  At least you have an early warning that they don’t see the message the same way you do. In that case, there’s a need for some remediation.



I confess to being a TV junkie. I watch NCIS, CSI, and Law & Order over and over and over.  My lovely wife, Nancy, gets a little frustrated with it sometimes. In fact, one of her favorite sentences when I’m absorbed in a show is “What did I just say?”

What did she just say?

She wants an echo. She wants to be sure I really heard what she said.

A good way to verify that your communication is clear is to request an echo. Going back to our example, you could try, “I need the Ranger tonight to take the Christmas tree to the recycling center. It’s the last night they are open.”

Anyone who can repeat back that statement will get all of the elements necessary to ensure the message was received as intended. Look at all the pieces:

  • The truck
  • The recycling center
  • The urgency (or embarrassment) of getting rid of the Christmas tree tonight

All of the pieces are there, and if someone can repeat it, there’s little room for argument. If you don’t like asking for the full-blown echo, consider the most important components of it. For example, “So, you understand I’m taking the Ranger to the recycling center, right?  And it’s tonight because…”

They’ll at least fill in the blank with “It’s the last night.” 

Speaking of communication, you might be thinking, “Carl, this seems a little pedantic. Don’t they have a responsibility to get the message?”

They may, but it’s up to the communicator to do what they taught us in journalism school at OSU—Tell ‘em, Tell ‘em again, and Tell ‘em that you told ‘em. The more we can do to ensure our messages are not only sent, but received, the further ahead we all are in terms of ensuring communications have actually occurred.

Watch my on-demand webinar, Communicating UP!, where you’ll get the opportunity to learn how to distill your message down to its core elements, create a common vision, and engage an audience quickly and effectively. This Webinar is eligible for 1 PMI® PDU in the Leadership category of the Talent Triangle.


Written by Carl Pritchard

Carl Pritchard, PMP®, PMI-RMP® is the author of seven project management texts, and co-produced “The Audio PMP Prep: Conversations on Passing the PMP® Exam” with Bruce Falk. He is the U.S. Correspondent for the British Project Management Magazine, “Project Manager Today” and serves on the board of directors for ProjectConnections.com

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