Misunderstandings between analysts and customers can arise from the same sources that complicate any communication. For example, people tend to exaggerate how well they have understood others and vice versa (for a review, see Arkes and Kajdasz, 2011). People unwittingly use jargon and everyday terms (e.g., risk, accountable, secret) in special ways, not realizing that others use them differently. People use verbal quantifiers (“unlikely,” “most,” “widespread”) for audiences that want numeric ones (Erev and Cohen, 1990). People guess wrong about what “goes without saying” for their communication partners, sometimes repeating the obvious, sometimes omitting vital facts and assumptions (e.g., Schwarz, 1999). People speak vaguely when they are not sure what to say, hoping that their partners or audience will add clarity. People resolve ambiguities in self-serving ways, hearing what they want to hear (for a review, see Spellman, 2011).

A well-known philosophical account (Grice, 1975) holds that good communications say things that are (a) relevant, (b) concise, (c) clear, and (d) truthful. Fulfilling these conditions can, however, be difficult unless the parties interact directly, allowing the trial-and-error interaction needed to identify and eliminate ambiguities. Without feedback, for example, individuals can unintentionally violate truthfulness (condition d) when their messages are not interpreted as intended. Achieving relevance and conciseness requires understanding what problems the customers are trying to solve and what facts they already know. Achieving that understanding requires assessing customers’ information needs in a disciplined way, then determining how well those needs have been met (see Fischhoff, 2011, for a review of research on communication).


Current and forward-looking intelligence analyses contain assessments about events and expectations about possible future events. Those assessments and expectations inevitably involve uncertainty. Analyses are conditional on assumptions about the world, which must be recognized in order to know when analyses need to be reviewed. In this section we briefly describe the research on each of these features as it applies to the IC’s communication needs. Some of that research, such as studies on how to communicate probabilities, is directly usable by the IC (e.g., Beyth-Marom, 1982). Other research is embedded in findings on research methods, which depend on successfully communicating with the individuals being studied: posing questions and interpreting answers (e.g., Ericsson and Simon, 1993; Murphy and Winkler, 1987; Poulton, 1994).

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