I have learned from my coaching and facilitation work how powerful paraphrasing can be. When grounded in authentic, nonjudgmental, curious listening, and not used to interrupt, redirect or override, it can enhance the value of any conversation.
Here’s how it typically plays out. I’ll listen to a client (or team) describe a job challenge or area of frustration — letting them wander a bit about how they feel, throw in some examples, and even draw discouraging conclusions. And then I’ll use more neutral and precise language to highlight what seems most important to them or to synthesize their story into a theme we can explore. As a result…
- The individual is energized by the sheer fact that she (or he) is truly being heard and understood – their stress goes down, and their sense of possibility go up;
- She is motivated to continue thinking out loud, using the paraphrasing as helpful building blocks to advance her own thinking;
- Sometimes an exciting fresh “spark” of insight emerges by combining their own thoughts with the paraphrasing;
- Finally, the culminating clarity of thought leaves the individual (or team) feeling more confident about navigating their work challenges, because seemingly large but vague negative feelings have been transformed into discrete problems or opportunities that seem within reach.
With deep listening and paraphrasing in your conversational tool kit, you can be a valuable thought partner to any colleague or friend. Just look out for any signs that you are off base, overdoing it and interrupting, or talking more than listening.