June 22, 2022 | Barb Carr

Repeat-back Can Save a Life


Repeat-back (sometimes referred to as 3-way communication) is used to ensure the information shared during a work process is clear and complete. It’s a simple concept with the power to save a life. When evaluating whether or not repeat-back should be part of a work process, it’s important to consider what could happen if it’s not. Do any of these five poor communication scenarios sound familiar?

  1. The worker made assumptions about an unclear message based on his/her experience or expectation.
  2. A worker chose poor words for communication.
  3. A worker delivered messages that were too long to remember.
  4. The message was not delivered by the worker in the receiver’s primary language.
  5. A message was delivered in the same language but by a worker from a different geographical region so the words did not sound the same across regions and were misunderstood.

Any of the communication mistakes above can lead to serious consequences that repeat-back could help avoid.

Human errors often occur because workers don’t hear or understand what needed to be done, not because they are not capable of doing the work error-free.

We are not as good at listening and remembering as we think we are.

Repeat-back should be used when essential detail must be communicated as well as meaning. In the repeat-back process, the sender initiates the communication using the receiver’s name, the receiver repeats the information back, and the sender acknowledges the accuracy of the repeat back or repeats the communication if it is not accurate. This technique may be required by policy or procedure and reinforced during training on a task for better compliance.

As mentioned above, (and worth repeat-back) human errors often occur because workers don’t hear or understand what needed to be done, not because they are not capable of doing the work error-free. By repeating the message back, communications are strengthened, and getting the job done right is more likely.

In our 5-Day TapRooT® Advanced Root Cause Analysis Team Leader Training, students perform a communications exercise that drives this message home in a fun way. This reinforces their knowledge of the Communications Basic Cause Category on the TapRooT® Root Cause Tree. A little understanding of this category of root causes goes a long way in fixing communication errors. You don’t have to be a communications expert, just follow the expert TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis Process.

Join us to learn more about communication problems that lead to incidents, and how to fix them. We have courses coming up this summer in Perth, Australia, Monterrey, Mexico, Lake Tahoe, Nevada and Dallas, Texas.

View our upcoming courses worldwide.

And keep in mind … using repeat-back is one of the easiest ways to avoid incidents stemming from poor communication. Ensure your management team is enforcing this technique where it is essential.

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