Paraphrasing as listening to understand…facilitation skills for your next meeting

Paraphrasing skills to help you listen with intent in your next meeting

Contributing Blogger Chris Pedersen

Listen with intent to understand, not reply. Talk to clarify and share participants’ ideas and knowledge.

Listening is difficult. We have all failed to listen when it was needed. Listening can be practiced, skills nurtured, and results enhanced. In today’s post, I talk about an important listening skill to help you in your next meeting—Paraphrasing!

Grab a coffee, pull up a chair, and enjoy. I will be enjoying a new roast from Structure Coffee from Montreal. I always love trying new things, especially coffee to enhance my mornings.

Groups are comprised of people with diverse communication styles, a wide range of tolerances, and various enthusiasms for the ideas of others. Sam Kaner says that groups who work together, and better tolerate each other’s communication styles will be able to generate a wider range of ideas. However, what happens if you are running a meeting and the group won’t listen to each other?

The use of paraphrasing can help you support the group’s listening and idea generation, and make a meeting more productive. As the facilitator of the meeting, you add tremendous value by listening carefully and with great skill so you can help group members to listen, understand each other, and generate ideas.

Here is one essential listening and talking skill for facilitators from Sam Kaner’s Book Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision Making:


Paraphrasing is a fundamental skill that helps people in a meeting to think aloud and reassure participants that their ideas are worth hearing.

Tip #1 Beginning the paraphrase:

There are three ways that you can begin to paraphrase to ensure the ideas and wisdom remain the participants.

“It sounds like what you’re saying is…”

“This is what I’m hearing you say…”

“Let me see if I’m understanding you…”

Practical tips for paraphrasing:

  1. Use your own words to say what you think the speaker said to clarify convoluted or confusing ideas.
  2. Always take it back to the speaker to confirm whether they feel understood.
  3. If the speaker does not feel understood, continue asking questions for clarification until what they are saying is understood.
  4. The paraphrasing should be shorter than the original statement
  5. Ensure ownership of the ideas stays with the other person
  6. Don’t judge or evaluate the other person’s comments, e.g., don’t say, “I wonder if you really believe that?” or “Don’t you feel out-on-a-limb making that comment?”
  7. Speak clearly, at a volume and pace where everyone can hear you

Groups are diverse and this can be a challenge in meetings. To help, apply the listening skill of paraphrasing  to your next meeting. Listening to the group can take the diversity of the group and benefit from it, generate a wide range of ideas, and leave people feeling listened to, respected, and involved in the way forward.

Thank you for reading. If you want more information on listening skills in Facilitation, I suggest you check out Sam Kaner’s book “Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision Making.” It is a fantastic book and you will get the time to enjoy more than one coffee while reading it. That is the sign of a good book. One you won’t want to put down and worth that extra brew.



Paraphrasing as listening to understand…facilitation skills for your next meeting
Tagged on: