Say It 7 Times

April 8, 2014

say it 7 times

“My fascination with letting images repeat and repeat–or in film’s case ‘run on’–manifests my belief that we spend much of our lives seeing without observing.”           – Andy Warhol

Say it 7 times to make it so. There is a reason this became an adage. It works.

It works so well that a friend of mine Buckley Brinkman, Executive Director of Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, made 7 Times a policy. He was tired of people saying to each other, “Don’t they listen? I told them this two days ago.” Anytime they heard such a complaint, employees were instructed to ask, “Did you say it 7 times?” If they had not, the complainer had to take responsibility for delivering the message again. After the seventh message, responsibility shifted to the person who failed to hear it. Buckley says that since they implemented the 7 Times policy everyone in his organization has gotten better at both delivering and hearing messages.

When I was president of my company, I found the need to repeat myself exasperating. These days, I tell executive coaching clients that repeating messages is both one of the most exasperating and boring aspects of leadership. There are ways to make it less boring and more effective, though.

Try some of the following approaches to delivering a message:

  1. Ask it as a question so that the other person can actively respond to you;
  2. Use a metaphor to punctuate the point like Charles Schwab’s President/Co-CEO David Pottruck did when he had the top 150 managers symbolically walk across the Golden Gate Bridge to signal a transformational shift from broker to online broker. Or like OEM Manufacturer CEO Mark Tyler did when he gave a New Orleans-style funeral to the recession in 2012; employees dressed in black and gathered around a casket with recession inscribed on it. Even others from town showed up to give their respects;
  3. Send it in an email;
  4. Put it in the newsletter;
  5. Hold a town hall meeting (and video it);
  6. Show the video a month later;
  7. Tell a story that is shocking or memorable;
  8. Hook into the other person’s emotions;
  9. Move from implicit to explicit;
  10. Ensure the person is not distracted. Look them in the eye and, if they are not staring back at you, don’t provide your message until they are;
  11. If they are on the phone with you, listen for keyboard clicking sounds or long pauses (indicating a wandering mind). If you sense they are distracted, ask them to focus on this conversation before you provide the message;
  12. Have posters made;
  13. Have wallet-size cards made.

Saying it 7 times can get rather boring, but it really does work–especially if you vary your approach.

If you’re struggling to get messages across, you may wish to spend some time examining the underlying causes. Your go-to delivery methods may not work with a particular report, or you may be deluging your reports with too many messages and ideas. They may be waiting for a signal from you about which ones you really want them to pursue. The number of times you send a message can communicate its important as well as the tone. Failure to respond to messages that aren’t delivered in a dire and threatening tone may signal much larger trust and betrayal issues.

The Mere Exposure Effect suggests that people tend to look for and prefer patterns of behavior. This is also known as the Familiarity Effect. Whether it is because of function or dysfunction, the Rule of 7 does work.

How do you apply the Rule of 7?

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