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When Double Meaning Creates Double Jeopardy

We all sat in the majestic orchestra hall completely captivated by the concert.  The conductor turned around and said, “The next song is from the play West Side Story.  It is when the kids all gather in the gym for a dance and in the middle of the dance one of the Puerto Ricans yells out “mamba” and the song changes to the intense mamba song.  We will play that song for you now.  We want you to participate so when we play the following refrain you will then yell out ‘Mamba.”   He then had the orchestra play that part, he turned around and we all yelled out “mamba.”  He then said, “Good.  I will turn around when it is time and you will do this twice.”

So they start to play.  We hear the refrain, he turned around and we all yell out “mamba”.  But wait, they played the refrain again, but he didn’t turn around.  Now half yelled out “mamba.”  And then the awkward pause came, followed by the rumbles of people talking.

What happened is what I call Speaking Double Jeopardy.  The conductor knew that twice in the song he would turn around and have us yell out mamba but we didn’t know if he meant twice in the song or twice in a row since the orchestra played the same refrain two times in a row.

This Speaking Double Jeopardy really can land you in a pickle.  When it happens people move immediately to defending their point of view because they each want to be “right.”

This most frequently happens when you, as the speaker, make assumptions.  Your mind fills in the meaning of what you are saying so to you it seems “obvious.”  If the conductor had said, “There will be two separate times in this song when I will turn around and have you yell out ‘mamba’. Each time you yell it out you will then hear the orchestra once again replay that refrain but that time you won’t yell out. Your easy signal is yell only when I am facing you.”

Double meaning is why the military uses the 24 hour clock.  They couldn’t afford to have someone forget if they were rendezvousing at 11 am or 11 pm.  They had to be precise.

Take Action: Just for this week, watch how often people play Speaker Double Jeopardy without even realizing it!  Try to eliminate this from your emails and messages in order to avoid miscommunication.


As the leading Outcome Strategist, Anne Warfield shows people how to say the right thing at the right time every time.  The revolutionary Outcome Focus® Approach shows how to build a candid corporate culture of communication that allows you to lead, present and negotiate transformationally rather than transactionally. When applying Outcome Thinking® our client’s results include sales cycles reducing by 75%, turnover reducing by 30%, silos evaporating, and a 25% savings of time by executives.  Find out how you can maximize your corporate culture for greater productivity and results!  Contact us at 888-imp-9421, visit  www.impressionmanagement.com,  or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .