How to Unlock the Art of Dialogue using ChatGPT, Repetitions and Visualizations

March 12, 2024

In the realm of communication, clarity is key. Whether it's a conversation between friends, a business meeting, or an educational session, the effectiveness of communication often determines the success of the interaction. But what happens when communication breaks down, leading to misunderstandings and frustration?

Recently, during a coaching session with a coachee, who is a fellow coach, we stumbled upon a common issue many face: the challenge of clear communication. Her students were feeling frustrated, and upon observation, we discovered that unclear instructions and ambiguous language were at the root of the problem.

Analyzing her style here's what we found:

  1. Undefined Parameters: Instructions lacked specificity. For example, breaks were announced, but the duration was not stated. This ambiguity led to confusion among the students.
  2. Lack of Structure: While the coach intended for groups to be self-organized, the absence of clear guidelines left students feeling lost. They craved structure and direction, which they didn't receive.
  3. Thought Dump vs. Clarity: The documentation provided seemed more like a stream of consciousness rather than a clear guide. While it may have been useful for the coach's own reference, it failed to convey information effectively to the students.
  4. Ambiguous Assignments: Assignments contained phrases with multiple interpretations, resulting in varied approaches from students. This lack of clarity led to inconsistent results and further frustration.

To address this issue, we turned to technology for assistance. Enter chatGPT, a generative AI capable of producing text based on input prompts. We decided to test how chatGPT would interpret the same instructions given by the coach.

The results were eye-opening. ChatGPT's responses varied widely from what the coach intended, highlighting the importance of precise communication. This experiment served as a stark reminder of how easily misunderstandings can occur when instructions are not clear and concise.

Now, let's turn this into an interactive exercise. Grab a sheet of paper and follow along:

  1. Take a phrase or instruction from your daily communication that you feel could be clearer.
  2. Input that phrase into chatGPT and observe the response.
  3. Reflect on how chatGPT interpreted the phrase compared to your original intention.
  4. Consider how you could revise the phrase to be more precise and understandable.

"Draw a square with three lines!"

Certainly! Here's a simple ASCII representation of a rectangle with three lines:
|      |
|      |

"Try a variation of the interpretation of "rectangle with three lines". What else could it mean?"

|\    /|
| \  / |

"What else? Don't repeat previous suggestions!"

 |      |
 |      |

And finally a clear enough prompt to get the expected

"Draw a square and three lines next to it!"

_______   |    |    |
|       |  |    |    |
|       |  |    |    |
|_______|  |    |    |

The "square with 3 lines" where the word "with" has multiple meanings definitely has most people of our workshops become confused on how to properly solve the riddle.

How meanings of words can change over time

Another coachee did use clear language, however, in the minds of the receivers the words have changed and therefore also the meaning of the message. The coachee, a manager of a fresh team as invited the team to talk about the upcoming plans of the project. The project faced a people shortage. The manager had called the members to a meeting. The preparation was good as well, since the message was documented well on a well-accessible page.

The message the manager has delivered:

We have two tracks in our team. 2 people help this team and 2 people take care of this track. This counts for the duration of the project.


We disband the team and split into two teams.

in the following week.

Ebbinghaus' Forgetting Curve

What happened? When we memorize something, we tend to forget half of the information within 20 minutes. This information results from the study of the "Forgetting Curve". The forgetting curve was defined in 1885 by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850-1909) in his book Memory. The discussed information has gotten defuse. When information is defuse, the brain is really good in filling in missing information. But in this case, the information was different from the previous communicated information. Check out False Memory and Memory Errors to read more about the topic.

This way the information has changed and the result was the members came back to the manager, confused, frustrated and in anger, that their freshly installed team would be disbanded.

Repetition and time for clarification is the key

The key for this situation is to repeat the communication. Even though, it was a rather simple plan: "Two people go to this project and two go to that project", the team has misunderstood. In change management, it is therefore recommended to repeat information often and to not expect anyone to know your plan 100%-ly.

Also, be open for questions and concerns, so that you know where to identify miscommunicated and misunderstood points.

A flow chart sometimes says more than a title of a task

We had a case, where a tech lead's senior developer took over a task, with very little description in it. For the second time, the senior reported back to the project manager saying: "It's not possible to do." Little did anyone know why.

The tech lead got her attention on it and dived deeper into the topic. Why is it, that now one knows why it is not solvable. We recommended her to get everyone together to make this visible.

She figured out, that it was not visible, because now one knew what needs to be done.

The title was vague, the description was missing and no clear definition of done as a requirement given. What they knew: It seems to be something with lot's of nested cases.

It turns out, that even the project manager did not even know what she wanted. She barely understood the technology, but she knew something needed to be done with that technology. So, the tech lead had a longer conversation with the project manager. She called it workshop – an inviting form of sharing knowledge, while creating something the collaborative way.

Learning about flow chart was the key

A simple flow chart showing 4 different scenarios with nested cases.

The purpose of the workshop was to spread unknown knowledge, put the knowledge together and form a plan that will be formulated as a task that is enabled to be moved to done, once requirements are met. The tech lead figured out, that teaching the product manager the simple art of flow chart would enable the project manager to tell, what she wanted to do.

More than that: As the project manager drew down the ideas, the tech lead and the senior where finally able to add their expertise such as technical constrains and missing and forgotten cases of the complex nested cases situation.

Take the extra step for clarity

...and guide your team to the meant direction of understanding!

So, the next time you communicate, whether it's with colleagues, clients, or students, remember to verify your message. Take the extra step to ensure clarity, and you'll reap the rewards of smooth, successful interactions.

Image from Mimi Thian on Unsplash

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