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How do you prove to a speaker that you are really listening to what they are say

When we speak with someone, the actual words we choose convey part of the meanin
g, but only part. Much of the meaning is conveyed by tone of voice and physical
expression — especially the nuances of sarcasm, excitement or humor. Make sure t
hat your tone of voice and body language demonstrate a complete understanding of
the nuance of the speaker’s tone of voice.
Measures of Empathic Paraphrase
Your empathic paraphrase is fully interchangeable when the speaker feels you hav
e captured his thoughts and sentiments exactly. It often coincides with an excit
ed burst of energy or an enthusiastic, “Yes!”
The most common way in which your paraphrase will be inaccurate: all the speaker
’s key ideas are not captured. That is, the paraphrase has subtracted some of wh
at was said. The speaker says, “I am concerned about A, B & C.” The paraphraser
says, “You are concerned about A & B.”
The next most likely way in which your paraphrase will be inaccurate: we hear wh
at we want to hear and focus on our own ideas. We then add statements that the s
peaker did not make. The speaker: “I am concerned about A, B & C.” The paraphras
er says, “You are concerned about A, B, C, L, & R.”
Instead of paraphrasing what was said you offer your interpretation of what you
believe the speaker meant to say. You hear A, B & C and say “I have the impressi
on that what you are really talking about is G.”
Interpretive Paraphrase
Interpretive paraphrasing is a double-edged sword. Interpreting the speaker too
soon often causes her to think you are not listening, you are more enamored with
your own theories, rather than the thoughts of the speaker.
First, understand the other’s needs and perspective. Not only does this validate
your business associate or customer and build trust, but allows you to better a
lign your ideas, solutions or products with their needs or values. The result: d
eeper satisfaction with the interaction, an improved relationship and an increas
ed likelihood of association.
Artful Interruption
As we begin paraphrasing in more depth, we frequently cannot remember everything
the speaker has said. The solution is to interrupt the speaker early, before ou
r “buffer” fills up. Speakers do not mind being interrupted if your purpose is s
olely to paraphrase for understanding. “Excuse me, I want to make sure that I ge
t this right. You believe that….”
How to interrupt artfully:
1. Use a gesture — a signal to “hold on” for a moment:
- Do the time-out signal with a smile.
- Make a sharp cutting gesture.
- Raise your hand.
2. Raise your volume to “top” the speaker.
3. Give your face an expression of expectancy, excitement, alarm or concern.
4. Lean in closer, suddenly.
5. Use a phrase:
- “Let me make sure I get this…”
- “I want to understand this…”
- “So you’re saying that…”
- “Aah, I think I get it! You…”
Begin sharpening your paraphrasing skills. Practice “parroting” what someone els
e says: every thought uttered, using as many of their exact words as possible. T
hat is, you will try to repeat exactly what is said. As we move into the full mo
del, you will not be so literal. Instead, you will capture the essence of what i
s said using the speaker’s key words.
Phase 1 of the process occurs when you listen to someone else
Repeat as many of the other person’s exact words as possible.
Make sure that you have accurately captured the other’s thoughts. Check, “Is tha
right?” Interpret anything but an unequivocal yes as “no.” Try again.
Paraphrase with Empathy
Paraphrase in a way that captures “the essence” of all major points the speaker
makes. Use the speakers key words. (We are all most comfortable with our own wor
ds and we know what we mean by them). Work on making sure that your tone of voic
e, gestures and energy level are commensurate with the speaker’s.
When Should I Paraphrase?
1. To make sure you understand the other party. If there is any doubt about thei
r, meaning, paraphrase. The act of paraphrasing can help you to piece together s
eemingly disparate chunks of content into a coherent concept. Often the speaker’
s meaning will only became clear to you when you attempt to paraphrase it.
2. To prove to the other party that you truly DO understand what they are saying
. An interchangeable paraphrase is the only technique we know that will do this.
3. To build rapport. People enjoy feeling understood.
4. When the situation is emotionally charged. This helps to defuse conflict. Whe
n the other party feels that you have heard and understood them, they tend to fe
el more calm and open to your point of view.
5. To listen more closely. When your mind drifts, remind yourself to “get ready
to paraphrase.” Doing a strong paraphrase is gratifying.
6. To replay the speaker’s message. This is helpful if what they’ve said makes n
o sense or seems absurd. Once they hear it, they often rephrase it to a more coh
erent message.
7. When you hear emotional language and emotional hot buttons. The speaker menti
ons these points because they have strong feelings. When you paraphrase intercha
ngeably, the speaker will feel gratified that you “got it.” For example:
- We are excited about…
- We struggle with…
- I’ve been a loyal customer for 5 years and now you…
- I put my butt on the line and now …
Emphatic Tone
People fail to give enough weight to the “empathic” aspect of empathic paraphras
ing. An empathic paraphrase is characterized by “empathy;” that is the ability t
o understand another’s situation, feelings and emotions. Many of us begin by rem
embering what the other said, but are unable to capture the speaker’s emotional
tonality. Empathy supports our ability to connect with another person and to res
pond in a way that builds deeper relationships.
If you restate the speaker’s words in a dispassionate and detached tonality, you
have not empathically paraphrased. Listen to the speaker’s emotions, sentiments
and desires, then pitch your voice and use your face and gesture in a manner th
at reflects understanding of the speaker’s emotive state.
If another person is very excited, showing your own excitement as you paraphrase
is appropriate. However, in other situations, you can get into trouble by merel
y mirroring the speaker’s emotion. If someone is expressing fear or anger echoin
g these sentiments will only heighten unpleasant feelings. Instead, perhaps soft
ening your voice to a gentle tone that reflects back confident calm, will suppor
t them with reassurance.
If they are expressing intense anger, paraphrasing with intense concern or regre
t will reassure them that you understand how strongly they feel.
Practice the technique at work with colleagues, in social situations, or at home
with family. Notice how people tend to respond when they feel that you are real
ly listening and understanding them.
These techniques have made our interactions more fruitful and smoothed challengi
ng customer exchanges. Give it a try.