Paraphrasing can be defined as: The act of reflecting back what you have heard using the words of the speaker as much as you possibly can.
In order to paraphrase well, you must pay attention to what the other person is saying. This in itself already improves the quality of your listening, adding depth and richness to the conversation. Whilst paraphrasing seemingly slows down the dialogue, paradoxically, it is also likely to act as a springboard for the thinking process and idea generation because of the space for reflection it encourages.
Paraphrasing can be done at any point in a conversation or discussion where you think it can add value. It is not something that most of us do naturally in a conversation and very often is not necessary. Too much paraphrasing can sound artificial and be annoying. However, there are benefits that come with paraphrasing if you practise so that you can do it well and naturally.
Consider the following example:
Original statement: “You know, I have just spoken to my manager regarding a budget increase for the project I am working on but, unfortunately, he has said no. This is very frustrating as it stops me hiring an extra person to do the data analysis and now I really don’t know what to do…”
Paraphrased content: “What you said is that you are frustrated and don’t know what to do now because your manager has said no to a budget increase and that means you can’t hire an extra person”.
As you can see from this example, the paraphrased content is shorter than the original. It sticks to facts and avoids over interpretation. It acknowledges feelings that have been expressed, and uses the original words of the speaker even if some tenses and forms have been changed (frustrating to frustrated, it stops me hiring to can’t hire…).
When you are paraphrasing, you can use opening expressions such as:
- “What you said is…”
- “What I’m taking away from what you’ve said is…”
- “If I have understood you correctly, what you are saying is…”
Practice paraphrasing by asking a friend or a colleague to relate a story or an event to you.
Tell them that you are going to practice paraphrasing their words. When you have done so, ask them to decide if what you have reflected back to them corresponds to what they have said. Repeat the exercise until they are satisfied with your effort. Reflect on their feedback and work out what you could improve or do differently. The more you practice, the better you will become.
Explore further. Paraphrasing also has an important role to play in managing challenging conversations.