The Power of Paraphrasing

Paraphrasing is a fundamental skill of mediation. The paraphrase develops relationship and understanding, enhancing the nonverbal skills of rapport. When a question is not preceded by a paraphrase, it can seem intrusive and pointed.

How can one become a better paraphraser? First, discipline yourself to turn off the noise in your head. Your own thoughts about what the person is saying can cause you to stop listening. The brain finds itself infinitely more interesting than what is going on in the outside world. Intentionally mirror the speaker and use rapport to tune in to the coachee and tune out the distractions that interfere with authentic listening. Listen with the intention to understand and not to speak. Consciously set aside autobiographical, solution, and inquisitive listening.

Listen first for emotion and content. Paraphrasing of both enhances understanding—we are both feeling and thinking beings. Listen, too, for identity, values, beliefs, and assumptions. These are at the core of our actions and often are communicated but are not conscious. The paraphrase brings the person’s inner self to the external and allows it to be consciously examined. Remember not to use the pronoun “I”. Costa and Garmston maintain that ‘the pronoun “I” signals that the speaker’s thoughts no longer matter and that the paraphraser is now going to insert his own ideas into the conversation” (p 48).

There are three broad categories of paraphrasing to explore and a coach/facilitator choose one type or another depending on the intention in the moment.

How can you be more conscious of your paraphrases this week? What might you do to sustain your journey as a cognitive coach or a facilitator of groups?