Paraphrasing and summarising: Two weapons of solid communication

Mastering the two skills will result in fruitful conversations at workplaces

Bhavna Dalal
Updated: Aug 30, 2016 09:23:05 AM UTC
(Photo: Shutterstock)

Paraphrasing and summarising are powerful yet simple means to enable effective purposeful conversations in the workplace.

The dictionary definition of paraphrase is: par•a•phrase
Express the meaning of (the writer or speaker or something written or spoken) using different words, especially to achieve greater clarity.
A rewording of something written or spoken by someone else.

Paraphrasing is a solid means of truly and completely attempting to understand what the person communicating with you is really trying to say.

This may be the single-most critical factor that will facilitate fruitful conversations especially in flatter organisation structures. If roles are going to be defined more and more by responsibility and not by position, it is important that all parties involved have a common understanding of what they are dealing with. If the responsibility and ownership lies with you to get a job done, learning and practising this skill will make your job and communications a lot easier.

Paraphrasing greatly enhances the impact of the conversation.

Organisations need to encourage more and more people to close important conversations in meetings and one on ones by paraphrasing and summarisation.
Paraphrasing and summarising are tied together. In order to summarise, we need to paraphrase in our own words.

There are several benefits to paraphrasing at the close of a conversation. It forces you to reflect on what just happened. This leads to deeper introspection and retrospection, hence getting a better understanding of the issue or situation at hand.

This skill very often does not come naturally to us. However, like any other skill, it can be learnt and practised.

Tips on how to paraphrase when communicating
❖    The focus of the paraphrase should be on what the speaker implied, not on what you wanted them to imply. For example, a better way to say, “I think what you mean to say is ...”  is replacing it with, “If I am hearing you right, you mean that…?”
❖    In the paraphrase, try to use some of the words that the other person has used. Very often, the meaning of commonly used words has different interpretation for different people. By choosing the words used by the person speaking and coming to a clear common understanding is one of the primary goals of paraphrasing.
❖    You will need to listen to the person speaking actively if you will be paraphrasing what they are saying. This means paying attention to their body language, their expressions and their emotions in addition to their words.
❖    Put the ownership of the paraphrase on yourself, for example, “If I am hearing you right…?” or “If I understand you correctly…?” This makes the other person not as defensive, and hence more open to the conversation.
❖    Phrasing the paraphrase as a question is also a helpful technique, “You are saying that…?”, so that the speaker has the responsibility and opportunity to clarify their original comments in response to your question.
❖    Put the focus of the paraphrase on the other person, for example, if the person said, “I don’t have enough time to do what I want,” then don’t paraphrase, “We all don't have enough time, right?”
❖    Try not to evaluate or judge the other person’s comments. For example, not a  good idea to say, “Do you really think that is true?” or “I think it is unfair to make that comment.”
❖    You could use a paraphrase to validate your impression of the other person's comments. For example, it would be okay to name their feelings by saying, “You seemed frustrated on hearing…?”
❖    As much as possible, attempt to keep the paraphrase shorter than the original comments made.
❖    If the other person responds to your paraphrase that you still don’t understand them, give them a few more chances to restate their position.

Summarising is a very important skill for effective communication and is usually followed by paraphrasing. A summary is a concise overview of the most important points from a communication. It could be from a conversation, document or presentation. A well-spoken summary can verify that people understand each other. It can make communications more efficient and ensure that the gist of the communication is captured by all involved. This skill too can be acquired.

Tips on how to summarise effectively
❖    When listening to someone, look for what exactly they are trying to say underneath the words.
❖    Look for any one major point that comes from the communication.
❖    This about what the person is trying to accomplish in the communication?
❖    Try to organise the main and supporting ideas in your head.
❖    Do not introduce any new main points into the summary. If you do, make it clear that you’re adding them.
❖    The summary must always be shorter than the original communication.

Combining the skills of paraphrasing and summarising will allow you to save time and make great impressions in a workplace, where effective communication is greatly valued.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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