Anything you want others to remember is worth saying three times. One of the first times I remember hearing this rule was during DARE Officer Training with Linda Lang. She taught me to make learning points by using an auditory method, a visual method, and a kinetsetic method. Several months later I attended a class about courtroom presentations. Ray Mellow introduced first of his rules: that if you wanted the judge and jury to remember an important element of your case, repeat the point three times. About a year later I was taking a firearms instructor class. The instructor, Brad Parker, told us to ensure students remembered what we taught them to tell they what you are going to tell them in a class as an introduction, tell them during the lesson, and then tell them what you told them in the review. I am not a rocket scientist, (although I can operate a rocket launcher) but I learned after three times of being told that if you want your message to stick, repeat it three times.
When I applied this rule to my communications with others I learned how to use different communications methods to improve retention. Repeating something three times is an obvious lesson for trainers. It is also an important lesson for leaders. People remember better if you tell them something and then follow up with at least two other reminders using different means communication such as a phone call, a calendar invite, a text message, or an email.
This simple rule can be used all areal of your career and life. As simple as it is, execution can be hard. I gave a task to a direct report. A couple days later I had a follow up conversation checking on progress. He said he forgot. I thought I should only have to tell him once. Then I could remembered times when my boss spoke to me about completing a project or task. I recognized that he had to remind me a couple times after that first tasking before it really stuck in my mind. The lesson I took from that event with my employee was to apply the repeat three times rule.
The key to using this strategy effectively requires some creativity to avoid hen pecking. Calling an employee into your office and telling him, “I want you to do this, I want you to do this, I want you to do this.” is not effective. Likewise, calling the employee into your office in the next two days and asking, “Are you done yet?” makes you sound like an annoying sibling on a family road trip. How you implement this strategy requires you to identify your communication strengths and how your intended receiver best receives information. Using three different methods increase effectiveness.
Begin by simply telling the other person what you want or expect. You might suggest they take a few notes. Follow up within 24 hours with an email, letter, a social media private message, or a sticky note. Place a phone call or send a text message two or three days later to see if the other person has any questions and check on preliminary progress. Using this method allows you to pitch your message three times and reinforce the importance of the task or appointment. Each connection allows opportunities for additional information sharing, idea swapping, asking of questions and clarification of expectations which improves the quality of the finished product. Using different modes of communication, in person, in writing and by telephone, also improves communication by appealing to different communication styles of others. What they miss in one, they pick up in another. Making your pitch three times means you are more likely to have results three weeks from now during your follow up meeting,
I commonly employ this tactic. I start by reaching out to someone by mentioning to them I would like to talk with them soon about whatever the project or task is. We set a time then to meet. Giving them notice allows them time to think about the topic. During the meeting, I tell the person what I expect. I frame the expectations using loose interpretation of the SMART goal model so they have the information they need. A couple days later I will follow up with an email. I may tell them I think the project deserves a goal setting sheet and ask for a time to meet again to clarify expectations and standards. After someone has worked with me for awhile, they arrive at these meetings with a completed worksheet (see my post on setting goals: ). We reviewing and adjust the goal. I set calendar reminders during that meeting for appropriate follow up briefings. It is uncommon for projects not to be completed on time.
Three repeat works equally well with family and friends. For example, you ask your spouse about a weekend away in the fall. She says sure so you figure you are all set. I found that touching base a few days later with something like, “How does Columbus Day Weekend sound in Maine?” Again she agrees. A few days later follow up with more of the details. When Columbus Day Weekend arrives, you will be less likely to hear yours spouse say she planned on working the rummage sale at the church on Saturday afternoon instead of spending the weekend with you.
Conversely, you can reverse the tables. When your friend mentions going to the big game in a few weeks, reach back to him a few days later. “Hey, who is ordering the ticket?” Such a question does two things. It shows you paid attention, and helps your figure if your friend really wanted to go to the game. A text a few days later about how much you are about going with your friend keeps your friend engages and demonstrates your excitement about the event.
During this message, the repeat three times rule was introduced by a series of three teaching stories. In the middle of the article three examples of failure were provided to reinforce the message of the importance of the repeat three times. The middle of the essay also provided directions to apply the repeat three time rule by using three means of communication for each pitch, and examples on how to apply them at work, home, and with friends. Here, in the conclusion, I discussed each item I said I was going to discuss again to ensure my messages were received, understood and acted upon. Go forth and start and start repeating!
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