Broken-Record Response in Communication

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

The expression broken record refers to the repetition of a few words or a brief musical passage on a scratched vinyl disc.

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In communication studies, the broken-record response is the conversational strategy of forestalling further discussion by repeating the same phrase or sentence over and over. also called the broken-record technique.

Depending on the circumstances, the broken-record response may be a negative politeness strategy or a comparatively tactful way of avoiding an argument or a power struggle.
"With the broken-record technique," says Suzie Hayman, "it is important to use some of the same words over and over again in different sentences. This reinforces the main part of your message and prevents others raising red herrings or diverting you from your central message" (Be More Assertive, 2010). 

Examples and Observations

"[The professor] was totally blowing me off. Every time I tried to get the conversation going, all he kept saying was, 'Well, it's a real controversial point.'"
(Peter Taylor, Penny J. Gilmer, and Kenneth George Tobin, Transforming Undergraduate Science Teaching. Peter Lang, 2002)

"'What are you looking for?' Terri chirped from above me. 'I'll help you find it, and you can help me win the contest.'
"'I'm not listening to you. I'm not listening to you. I'm not listening to you,' I said while I waited for my eyes to adjust to the darkness."
(Mary Carter, Accidentally Engaged. Kensington, 2007)

"A coworker once recalled sleeping on a couch in the inventor's Baltimore home. It was a time when shops were regularly sending delaminated and bent skis back to [Howard] Head. 'I woke up,' the worker said, 'and I heard Howard in the next room. "I know I'm right, you're wrong! I'm right, you're wrong!" Howard never gave up—even in his sleep.'"
(John Fry, "Head's Easy-to-Turn Metal Ski Helped Turn America On to Skiing." Ski magazine, November 2006)

"My family loves action--control freaks, every last one of them. Stagnation, lack of progress, and the loss of a consecutive narrative were all unbearable to them. I could only offer the broken-record response, 'What more is there to say? I feel exactly the same today as yesterday.' I became so disgusted with having the same discussion again and again that I found it easier simply to evade such conversations and so begin a strategy of avoidance."
(Lynne Greenberg, The Body Broken: A Memoir. Random House, 2009)

The Broken-Record Response in the Classroom

"The 'broken record' uses a precise statement that explains what the expectation is and the consequence of not following through. An example is: 'I know you are a social person and really want to talk to your friends now, but this is the time devoted to writing in the journal. You need to go to your desk and write. If you do not write, you do not earn points.'
"The student has been affirmed, given the direction, and knows the consequences when the teacher request is ignored. Separate our emotion and stay with the facts. Decide if you will repeat the 'broken record' response two or more times, but follow through with the consequence."
(Robert Wandberg and Roberta Kaufman, Powerful Practices for High-Performing Special Educators. Corwin, 2010)

The Broken-Record Response in Medical Settings

"This technique of calmly repeating your decision is called the 'broken record' response. It will help you stand firm against even the most aggressive person without increasing the level of conflict.
"The broken record technique may be especially helpful if you ever have to deal with a drug-seeking or otherwise persistent patient."
(Robyn Gohsman, Medical Assisting Made Incredibly Easy: Law and Ethics. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2008)

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Broken-Record Response in Communication." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). Broken-Record Response in Communication. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Broken-Record Response in Communication." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 5, 2023).