Communication Monitoring and Repair

"What I just said didn't come out right. Let me try to say it another way." "After telling you the story, I don't think it's funny either."

"I can't believe you just said that!" "Who do you think you're talking to? You're not with your friends on the playground!"

"I'm glad you said that in a different way. Now that I understand what you tried to say the first time, I guess I shouldn't have gotten so mad at you."

Monitoring and repairing how one communicates during social interactions involves many different functions. Interacting with others depends on the effective reception and expression of language. Language is abstract, complex, subtle, sophisticated, audience-dependent, and very rapid. Once an idea is raised, an audience can either understand or misinterpret it. A speaker must attend to the feedback from his/her audience, use active working memory to monitor the effectiveness of communication while interacting, and when necessary, retrieve recuperative (or repair) strategies to enhance the listener's understanding.

Here are some strategies to help students develop their ability to monitor and repair their communication during social interactions.

Helpful Hints

  • Emphasize the importance of previewing (thinking ahead) and self-monitoring (being aware of what one says and how one says it). Encourage students to make a list of things that might help regulate what they say and how they say it (e.g., take my time, think of what to say before starting, etc.).  
  • Have students reflect upon social interactions with peers after a conversation or exchange. Discuss what information was effectively communicated, or could have been communicated more clearly, what might have been repaired or said a different way, etc. Provide examples of situations in which miscommunications are successfully repaired, e.g., a story in which a negative interaction becomes a positive one after misinterpretations are clarified.  
  • Students may need to learn specific "repair" statements such as: "I can see you misunderstood me ..." "What I meant to say was ...," "Let me say that another way," "I could have said that better ...," etc. Help students develop a network of vocabulary related to emotions, and an ability to recognize and interpret a listener's non-verbal and verbal feedback during a social interaction.  
  • Students may benefit from structured activities where they can explore interactions that spiral down from positive to negative, and those that improve from negative to positive. For example, students may watch movies or videos, read short stories or comic books, etc., and then discuss the positive and negative behaviors, the presence or absence of self-monitoring, examples of social "repairs," etc.