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successful paraphrasing

Savvy Paraphrasing and How to Use It

By Jay Clifford, Vice-President

Global Investment Strategies

At Global Investment Strategies our sole focus is on our clients and our relationships with them.  Essential to strong client relationships are our communication skills.  If we can’t communicate effectively, then our ability to build solid relationships is severely compromised.

Savvy Paraphrasing is one of our most powerful communication and relationship development tools. It promotes understanding and clarity between people. We use it often, and find it makes our client relationships more open, and trust between us and clients that much stronger.

Here’s how to do a savvy paraphrase.

  • Use your own words to demonstrate what you heard.
  • Ask if you got it right or left anything out.

Altogether it goes like this: “What I heard you say was…  Is that right?”

Savvy Paraphrasing indicates respect for the other person, creates the opportunity to clarify, and allows you to check the other person’s intention. To recap:

  • You use your own words;
  • use “…is that right?” every time;
  • and keep it neutral — no hidden barbs or sarcasm.

Okay, you can stop reading here and immediately start using Savvy Paraphrasing. When you use it, you’ll get results. If you want to see how and why Savvy Paraphrasing works, keep reading.

The Savvy Paraphrase makes a difference because of the words you use and verification you ask for. When you use your own words, you show respect for other person. You cared enough to consider the meaning of their words and then articulate them in yours. “What I heard you say was…”  as compared to “What you said was…” 

Verifying you got it right creates the opportunity to compare how you heard it with how they meant it. We each carry different perspectives on the world, and this is an efficient way to discover overlap or identify gaps. 

There are some cautions to keep in mind.

CAUTION #1: Be sure you don’t parrot back word for word what the person said. Parrot-Phrasing can be discounting because it implies that the person might be a little stupid because they don’t know the words they just said.

CAUTION #2: Be sure to verify with …Is that right?. In this way you avoid getting this kind of response (usually a little louder, maybe strained or sharper): “What I said was…” which can quickly degenerate into “You’re not listening to me!”. 

CAUTION #3: It’s very important that your paraphrase is non-judgmental. Avoid statements like, “What I hear you say is that the only way to ever do it is…Is that right?” Being human, when we hear something we disagree with, or that offends us, our tendency is to insert a tone, or words, that express our disagreement. We sound defensive. Defensiveness, of course, is one of the great enemies of effective relationships because it shifts the mental playing field from content to emotion.

Emotions are contagious, so pay attention to where you’re coming from when you paraphrase. Realize that a judgmental paraphrase is a reaction to what you’ve heard as compared to simply reflecting the content, the essence, in what you’ve heard. Before you paraphrase, take a moment to double check if you’re reacting instead of reflecting.

Paraphrase when:

  • There is disagreement between people. Sometimes you can help two people by paraphrasing each of them in turn. This helps them hear the other person’s point of view. When you’re in the disagreement, you can ask the other person to paraphrase you.
  • Not sure what was said or meant, especially if/when you start to feel defensive or angry or strongly disagree. Paraphrasing interrupts the emotions and returns the focus to content.
  • Want to be sure you both understand before proceeding. You sure don’t want to move ahead on something unless you’ve checked that you’re both going in the same direction.
  • Before a decision – make sure you share the decision and its implications for each of you.
  • My Favorite: Don’t know what else to say or where to go from here. The conversation stalls; you want to keep it going, but you’re not sure where to go. Try paraphrasing what you’ve just heard or paraphrase the gist of your conversation. Works like a charm because it helps both of you.

Infuse the Savvy Paraphrase into your personal interaction repertoire. Practice it until it becomes an automatic way of responding. Make it part of your interaction style. It’s a powerful and masterful communication tool that will change your relationships, both at work and at home.