Moving around a meeting room today examining the products of a group chalk talk activity, I notice someone has written, “‘So what I hear you saying…’ is a sign of active listening.”
I write, “Does it always?”
At some point, when I was likely in middle school, my mom had a conversation with me about active listening. She told me this phrase, or one quite similar to it could be deployed in conversation to make sure we were on the right track.
From then on, I had the keys to the conversational kingdom.
People responded differently when I dropped this paraphrasing gem into conversations.
“Oh,” their faces seemed to say, “You really were listening to me.”
And I was…sort of.
Largely what I was doing was listening to the words they were saying so that I could cut out a few adjectives, adverbs and prepositional phrases and turn their last sentence or two back on them.
In an attempt to make them feel heard, I wasn’t really listening.
This paraphrasing technique forgoes the whole in favor of the part. It’s akin to hiring highly-qualified teachers without considering all the other factors that might contribute to students’ learning.
Real paraphrasing, if we were to attempt to check in with folks on the messages they’re sending might look more like this:
So, what I hear you saying is, “INSERT ABBREVIATED SENTENCES HERE.” Plus, you’re standing with your arms crossed, which I interpret as you not feeling comfortable speaking your whole truth. This is in addition to the fact that you checked the clock on the wall twice during your last statement. All of this, taken with your friendship with the chair of the committee that spearheaded the initiative that caused the problem we’re attempting to solve, leads me to believe…
It becomes apparent that repeating what we’ve just heard might not be the check-in we mean it to be – not the whole check-in, anyway.
Paraphrasing, pausing in a conversation to seek clarification so that everyone involved remains on the same page is a helpful and necessary piece of communication.
I worry, as with any other helpful tip, that doing a thing can start to pass for doing THE thing.