The fine art of giving and receiving instructions: Repeat!

von Marion Ehmann

Recently I have been talking a lot with coaching clients about the difficulties of giving instructions clearly. The topic also pops up regularly in my Legal Project Management workshops, since communicating clearly with your project team is absolutely vital for project managers. The critical issue often is that what sounded clear as day in our own head still can be misunderstood, no matter how hard we try to be clear. As my partner puts it: “You never know what you have said until you have heard the reply”. An easy-to-use technique to come to terms with this issue is to ask the recipient to repeat your instructions back at you. And yet a lot of people are very reluctant to do so. Why is that and how does one use this technique correctly?

When I suggested to clients to ask the recipients of their instructions to repeat them, their first reaction was often along the lines of “Oh no, that feels just weird and awkward!” When I asked why, we found out that they assume that the recipient will find the request patronizing and feel insulted (“What, do you think I´m stupid? I heard you loud and clear!”). Digging deeper, I asked them if they had ever been at the receiving end of a request to repeat an instruction, and how they had felt about it ...

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