Paraphrasing - What You Think the Speaker Said

Paraphrasing (link to Integrative counselling skills in action by Sue Culley, Tim Bond) is when you, the listener, restate succinctly and tentatively what the speaker said - conveying empathy, acceptance and genuineness. Since we cannot read our client’s mind and we’ve been given a lot of extraneous material, it’s good to learn how to rephrase briefly and acknowledge that this is what we think the client has said.

For example, let’s say the client has gone into a lot of detail about a traffic jam and the effect on his blood pressure and his resulting visit with the doctor and the rude nurse and and and… To paraphrase would be to say in a tentative voice, “So after the traffic jam you felt your blood pressure was up, and the doctor confirmed this…?”

By doing this you are letting your client know that you understand and, if you don’t, are willing to be corrected. AND you are helping her or him to “cut to the chase.” What would not be helpful to say right now is, “So you have an anger management problem!?” It may be what you are thinking, but you want the client to keep talking and for the client to come to that conclusion on her or his own.

By the way, this is a good time to take interest in the tone of your voice. Be watchful of whether it is…

• High / low

• Loud / soft

• Fast / slow

• Accommodating / demanding

• Light-hearted / gloomy

Moderation in all things including voice. And remember, the person may not remember what was said, but they will remember how you made them feel!

In Class Homework

Trying Out Paraphrasing: 10 minutes of listening and restating in a compact sympathetic way, and 5 minutes of feedback

Listener - Get ready to actively listen and get into your encouraging body language.

Ask an OEQ like, “What brings you here today?” You want the speaker to go on at some length.

Speaker - Talk away!

A few minutes later...

Listener - Take what the speaker is saying and condense it – watching tone. You want to sound tentative.

Speaker - Let the listener know if she/he is on the right track.


1. Did you feel you were being sympathetically heard?

2. What percentage correct was the speaker? Ten percent? 90%? How come?


1. How was it to listen with the understanding you would be paraphrasing back to the speaker?

2. Did you feel you were “on the same page”? If not, why not?

Don’t worry if you are not completely accurate. That is why the listener “plays it back” to the speaker using a tentative tone.

Remember! The person may forget what you said, but will never forget how you made them feel!

Time to do the switcheroo!

Out of Class Homework

Look for opportunities to practice paraphrasing.

Don't look at me in that tone of voice! - David Farber

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