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Ensuring Your Meeting Participants Feel Heard Paraphrase to Acknowledge and Clarify

May 26, 2021 5:52 pm

The Power of Participation & Engagement: The Five Core Facilitator Best Practices Series (Stay Neutral | Listen Actively | Ask Questions | Paraphrase | Summarize)

In our fourth instalment of the Five Core Best Practices series, we are highlighting the importance of clarifying through paraphrasing.

Ensuring Your Meeting Participants Feel Heard
Paraphrase to Acknowledge and Clarify

When we paraphrase we’re essentially repeating back in our own words what we heard another person say. We reserve paraphrasing for those times when a participant says something that’s unclear and we’re trying to sort out the true intention of their response before capturing it on a whiteboard or flipchart.

Quite often during a collaborative discussion a participant may say something that you or others do not understand. Those not understanding the idea may hold back from asking a clarifying question for fear of looking unaware or being judged by others. Or attendees may not want to participate because they feel their voice is rarely acknowledged when they do try to speak. In these cases, we use paraphrasing to test for clarity and help to acknowledge participant ideas.

Once we’ve paraphrased it’s important that we end it with something like “did that capture what you were trying to say?” This opens the door for the speaker to agree with our paraphrasing or to have the chance to correct what we didn’t get right. Be prepared to hear out the speaker again and to again paraphrase back what you heard to determine if you got it right the second time around. Paraphrasing ensures that what gets captured is, in fact, what they really wanted to say. In turn, feeling heard further motivates participants to want to participate more as they can see that their opinion matters.

Sometimes it’s critical that we ‘parrot-phrase’ back what we heard word for word. This is important during times when the words or sentence structure is imperative and must be understood exactly as it was stated. We do this during discussions where a final decision has been made, where a call to action has been defined or when the conversation has litigious implications.

Facilitators also use paraphrasing to mirror back questions to the audience that have been directed to them but answering them could sacrifice the facilitator’s neutrality. For example, if a group member turns to the facilitator and asks, “What do you think about what Jim said?” The facilitator could say “Because I’m facilitating today and want to remain neutral, I’d like to hear what the rest of the group thinks of Jim’s response?” This mixture of paraphrasing and questioning helps to maintain our neutrality.

In conclusion, facilitators use paraphrasing to clarify and acknowledge participant responses. Occasionally they may parrot-phrase when exact wording is important. Or, they may paraphrase back question to the group to maintain their neutrality.


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