If it happens all the time, don’t call it “intermittent”


Earlier this year, my apartment building installed a large monitor in the common area to show announcements and other building info. Despite my recommendation to purchase a system that’s designed for that purpose, they opted to cobble something together from scratch. It worked fine at first, but now the monitor is down almost all the time.

While they try to sort out the issues with the large monitor, the building put up a message on another set of screens in the elevators. In that message, they apologize for the “intermittent” problems with the large display. Granted, I haven’t been keeping an exact log of each time the screen is up or down. But I’m pretty sure that it’s broken at least 75% of the time. That’s hardly an intermittent problem.

By using a term like “intermittent”, they’re suggesting that the issue is sporadic — maybe once or twice a week, for a brief period of time. Anyone who lives in the building can clearly see that the problem is much worse than that. This creates a disparity between what one side is saying, and what the other side knows to be true. In the process, it insults the intelligence of the person reading the message and erodes trust.

There’s a much better way to approach this type of communication. Just describe the problem fairly and accurately, and tell people what you’re doing to fix it. Sure, a “persistent” or “recurring” issue doesn’t sound as innocuous as an “intermittent” one. But if the problem is happening all the time, your audience already knows it’s out there. Be upfront about the situation, and your audience will thank you for it.