Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

Response Options to
 a Repetitive Person

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW

Member NSRC Expert's Council

The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/cx/apps/repeater.htm

Updated  01-30-2015

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      This is one of a series of brief articles on how to respond effectively to annoying social behavior. An "effective response" occurs when you get your primary needs met well enough, and both people feel respected enough.

      This article offers (a) perspective on people who repeat themselves, and (b) illustrates effective responses to them. The article assumes you're familiar with...

      This brief YouTube video offers perspective on relating to "difficult people." The video mentions eight lessons in this self-improvement Web site - I've simplified that to seven.


       Can you think of an adult or child who chronically repeats themselves? This can take many forms - repeating memories / jokes / expressions / ideas / worries / preaching / nagging / questioning, and so on. Whether their repetition is annoying or endearing depends on many factors.

      Some forms are more irritating than others. For instance, nagging ("reminding") is repeating requests or demands flavored with disapproval or criticism. It can imply "I don't trust you," and/or "You displease me." Preaching or moralizing over and over implies "I know more or better than you." Repeating stories or jokes implies "I'm focused on filling my needs now, and I'm not aware of (or I minimize) your needs."

      Understanding why people repeat themselves can help to form an effective response. Possibilities: they...

  • don't feel adequately heard or understood by the listener;

  • didn't get the response they needed from the listener;

  • want to emphasize the importance of their point;

  • can't remember saying _____ before, or whom they said it to; 

  • want to re-enjoy sharing something amusing or entertaining; and/or they...

  • need to avoid some other topic or an uncomfortable silence;

  • aren't able to articulate their real opinion, need, or experience;

  • are working through normal grief over an important loss (broken bond); and/or...

  • they need something else.

Can you think of other reasons kids and adults repeat themselves? Would knowing your repeater's need/s alter your attitude and response to them?

      How do you normally feel with chronic repetition? Bored? Irritated? Frustrated? Resigned? Distracted? Amused? Impatient? Numb? Weary? Victimized? Compassionate? Critical?

      What do you normally do - Interrupt? Tune out? Shut down? Pretend interest (be "polite")? Chuckle? Joke? Confront? Snap? Complain? Yawn? Leave? Change the subject? Comment? How do you feel about the way you respond? Does it nourish or harm your relationship? 

      An effective response to over-repeaters depends on your and their needs. With your favorite repeater (or nagger) in mind, consider these... 

Response Options

  • Mentally review...

    • these basic options;

    • how to give effective feedback;

    • steps to effective assertion and empathic listening

    • your mutual rights as dignified persons.

    • how you feel with an overly-repetitive person (above)

    • what specific outcome you need from responding to the person - to vent, inform, learn, cause change, set or enforce a limit, problem-solve, or something else. Then...

  • Ask if s/he is open to some personal feedback. If s/he says "No," you have a different problem to respond to. If the person agrees, choose an option like these, depending on what you need...

  • Depending on what outcome you need, choose one or more of these:

    To Vent, Inform, or Learn

    "So you want me to know __________." (Summarize the main points the speaker has made)

    "(Name). are you aware of how often you repeat yourself?"

    "You've told me that before."

    "Do you feel I'm hearing you well enough?"

    "What do you need from me now?"

    "When you need to repeat yourself, I feel _________ (and I start tuning you out)."

    "That's the third time you've told me that."

    To Cause Change or Set a Limit

    "I'm interested in what you say, but not when you repeat yourself."

    "(Name), I don't need to hear that again."

    "From now on, when you repeat yourself, I'm going to call you on it (or put my fingers in  my ears.)"

    "I'm going to hold up a finger for each time you repeat yourself."


    "If you're not sure I'm hearing you, ask me for a hearing check, OK?"

       With any responses like these, expect the other person to "resist" - e.g. to deny, explain, excuse, whine, blame, change the subject, bring up the past, get huffy or angry, go silent, over-apologize, or something similar. Use respectful empathic listening to acknowledge them, and then calmly repeat your response with steady eye contact. Do this as often as needed until you get your needs met or your needs change. 

Responses to Avoid

      Responses like those above work best if your true Self is guiding you and you have a genuine mutual-respect attitude. If these aren't true, you risk making lose-lose responses like these:

"Are you brain dead? You already told me that!" (disrespect)

"You win the gold medal for nagging, (Name)." (disrespect and sarcasm)

"Do we have to go through this again?" (heavy sarcasm)

"(Name), color me bored!" (indirectness and implied criticism)

"Blah blah blah..." (with an eye-roll and heavy sigh...)

"'Bye!" (missing a chance to assert and/or problem-solve)

Silence or pretended interest. This is a dishonest double message. It may diminish your self-respect and rob the speaker of awareness and a chance to improve. 

      If there's a repeater or a nagger in your life, imagine using responses like these to get your needs met respectfully. Recall our definition of an "effective response" (above). Do you think these responses would "work" for you? How do they compare with the way you usually react to excessive repetition? Responses like these will work best if you express their theme in your own language and style, rather than parroting them.


      This is one of a series of brief illustrations of how to respond effectively to common annoying social behaviors. This offers options for responding to someone who repeats themselves "too often" in  your opinion. Effective social responses are based on...

  • having your true Self guiding your personality,

  • a genuine mutual-respect attitude,

  • clarity on your feelings, needs; and mutual rights, and...

  • fluency in the skills of awareness, metatalk, assertion, and empathic listening.

Do you usually meet these criteria in social situations? If not (yet) - what's in your way?

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?  

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