Paraphrase When Communicating and Coaching Others

Paraphrasing is repeating in your words what you interpret someone else to be saying. Paraphrasing is a powerful approach to furthering the understanding of the other person and yourself and can significantly increase the impact of another’s comments.

As coaches, we know paraphrasing is incredibly difficult because we often need to listen deeply, a skill you must purposefully cultivate. Despite appearing attentive, our minds are churning with various thoughts, beliefs, defenses, distractions, and redirections.

The best way to practice paraphrasing is in your personal life. You can apply this powerful skill at work once you get the reps in with your husband, wife, kids, cousins, or friends.

When paraphrasing:

  • Focus your paraphrase on what the other person implied rather than what you wish they meant. For example, avoid saying, “So you’re saying you have NO homework? Instead, say, “If I understand correctly, you finished all your schoolwork during study hall?”
  • Put the focus of the paraphrase on the other person, e.g., if the person said, “I had a horrible night; I didn’t sleep more than four hours,” then don’t paraphrase, “Well, I WISH I got four hours; I had an even worse sleep; I was up all night.” Instead, say, “Oh no, you only got four hours of sleep?”
  • Put the ownership of the paraphrase on yourself, e.g., “If I’m hearing you right…” or “If I understand you correctly…”
  • Put the ownership of the other person’s words on them, e.g., say, “If I understand you right, you’re saying that…” or “Do you believe that…” or “Do you feel that…”

In the paraphrase, use some of the other person’s words. For example, if the other person said, “I think we should do more fun outings as a family. We never go anywhere,” You might paraphrase, “If I’m hearing you right, you feel like we need to schedule more outings we can enjoy together as a family?”

Don’t judge or evaluate the other person’s comments, e.g., don’t say, “Don’t you think you should be calmer when we drive in rush-hour traffic?”

You can use a paraphrase to validate your impression of the other’s comments; e.g., you could say, “So you were frustrated when…?”

The paraphrase should be shorter than the original comments made by the other person. Be brief and concise. It’s not about you!

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