Category Archives: Repeatback

Human Performance Tool Spotlight: Three-Part Communication

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three_intersecting_arrow_circles_standout_11882Hello again Human Performance Toolbox Community! I have recently been teaching some human performance fundamentals classes and have been asked to share content with my website visitors, and I love to share and trade human performance improvement information. So, over the next few weeks, I will be publishing a lot of human performance tool (HPT) content specific to the tools field workers should be using. As a reminder, tools are only part of a human performance improvement initiative and they are only to be used when they matter the most, which often is in preparation of managing a critical step, or recognizing you’re in an error-likely situation.

Three-Part Communication

As part of an overall “Effective Communication” effort, this tool is designed to ensure the message sent is the message received, and yes, this should become part of the fabric in your communication culture when the message has undesirable consequences if not transmitted or received adequately.

In three-part (sometimes called “three-way” or “repeatback”) communication, the sender (worker) states the message, the receiver (probably another worker) acknowledges the sender and repeats the message in a paraphrased form, and the sender acknowledges the receiver’s reply. This method can be used to communicate changes to physical facility equipment during work activities via face-to-face, telephone or radio modes of communication. It also is used to ensure that critical steps (e.g., within a safety critical procedure) are being strictly followed. Like the other tools, this one engages workers because they perform it themselves as a communications team.


The goal of effective communication is mutual understanding between two or more people, especially communication involving technical information related to proper operation or personnel safety. Effective communication is likely the most important defense in the prevention of errors and events. Oral communication possesses a greater risk of misunderstanding compared to written forms of communication. Mistakes are most likely to occur when the individuals involved have different understandings, or mental models, of the current work situation or use terms that are potentially confusing. Therefore, confirmation of verbal exchanges of operational information between individuals must occur to promote understanding and reliability of the communication. Many times, these individuals will not be in the same physical location and require a phone or a radio to communicate. 

When to use this tool:

  • Task assignments that impact equipment or activities, the safety of personnel, the environment, or the grid.
  • When communicating condition of equipment.
  • When communicating the value of an important parameter.
  • Performance of steps or actions using an approved procedure.
  • Operation or alteration of equipment.

How to use this tool:

  1. Sender states the message.
    1. When practical, the sender and receiver should be face to face.
    2. The sender ensures that he/she has the receiver’s attention—normally calling the receiver by name or position.
    3. Sender states the message clearly and concisely.
  2. Receiver acknowledges the sender
    1. The receiver paraphrases back the message in his or her own words
    2. Equipment designators and nomenclature are repeated word for word
    3. The receiver may ask questions to verify his or her understanding of the message
  3. Sender acknowledges the receiver’s reply
    1. If the receiver understands the message, then the sender responds with “That is correct.
    2. If the receiver does not understand the message, the sender responds with “That is wrong” (or words to that effect) and restates the original message
  4. If corrected
    1. Receiver acknowledges the corrected message, again paraphrasing the message in his or her own words.

At-Risk Practices:

  • Sender or receiver not stating his or her name and/or work location when using a telephone or radio.
  • Sender attempting to communicate with someone already engaged in another conversation.
  • Sender stating too much information or multiple actions in one message.
  • Sender not giving enough information for the receiver to understand the message.
  • Sender not verifying receiver understood the message.
  • Sender using the word “incorrect” or another variation that includes the word “correct” in it – may confuse Receiver and it may be all that is heard when the repeatback was wrong.
  • Receiver fails to ask for needed clarification of the message, if required.
  • Receiver taking action before the communication is complete.
  • Receiver not writing the message on paper if there are several items (more than two) to remember.
  • Receiver mentally preoccupied with another task.
  • Message not being stated loudly enough to be heard.
  • Enunciating words poorly.


With much gratitude, a lot of the above HPT basis comes from Department of Energy (DOE) and Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) research and collaboration, and the source document could be found by clicking here.

This article (you would have to purchase – sorry, it’s not free to share) adds some more specificity to the discussion : Engaging Workers as the Best Defense Against Errors & Error Precursors by Jan K. Wachter and Patrick L. Yorio

Me. I’ve inserted a few twists and clarifications for users and myself.