A good idea for today and everyday: paraphrasing

Paraphrasing always had a negative connotation for my French ears. Like beating around the bush or repeating things without value.

I know a much better meaning now: it’s a cornerstone of listening and learning.

I’ve been in this wonderful course from Sam Kaner about facilitation and participatory decision making. Quality stuff! And one of the first skills we learnt was paraphrasing.

Paraphrase, mirror, mimic each other, create a connection and have fun! (Credits: Arnold Newman / Getty Images)
Paraphrase, mirror, mimic each other, create a connection and have fun! (Credits: Arnold Newman / Getty Images)

This technique is useful for events and any piece of work involving people conversing, in fact even for personal life.

Essentially it’s about interpreting what someone said to check we understood. Sometimes it’s just mirroring (repeating), sometimes drawing the person to say more, or even ask others t osay more about the same topic. Obvious you would think! All the more so as facilitators. Yes, I do it often,  but not systematically. And as Sam would say, you have to commit to it.

And yet how often have I really understood everyone’s point? How often have I taken things for granted? Time to change that and practice.

Paraphrasing is my new diet. And I’ve just learned again how humbling but refreshing learning is…

Feeling thankful…

PS. And with this post I’m ending the series of short daily posts. Not sure about the whole experiment…


Published by Ewen Le Borgne

Collaboration and change process optimist motivated by ‘Fun, focus and feedback’. Nearly 20 years of experience in group facilitation and collaboration, learning and Knowledge Management, communication, innovation and change in development cooperation. Be the change you want to see, help others be their own version of the same.

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  1. Hello Joel,

    Unless you work on your own today (and everyday)…
    Or unless you have already mastered deep listening and the art of interpersonal communication…
    …there are chances/risks that you end up having misunderstandings or even arguments with people.
    And in those moments paraphrasing could become your best ally?

    What you’re saying is interesting though: what got you lost?
    I’d love to hear your thoughts,



  2. Thank you Mintesnot, and great that you’re already practicing this regularly. This is really excellent practice and it really takes a genuine *commitment*. But the results are all the better. Our trainer concluded his course by telling us: “if there is only one thing you should pick up from this course it’s the importance of deep listening”…

  3. This is interesting. I believe that we sometimes tend to avoid paraphrasing while facilitating for reasons which may include the following: a)we may be afraid of being boring by repeating what others have already said b)we may be understood as underestimating the intelligence of others c) we may want to avoid the possibility of not paraphrasing well enough d)we may consider it as a waste of time,(which is actually far from being so) ,etc. I don’t remember reading any literature directly on paraphrasing, but I always realized its importance for the reasons Ewen has mentioned. Thanks Ewen.

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