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The "Active" Part: Summarizing, Paraphrasing,  Reflecting

The "Active" Part: Summarizing, Paraphrasing, Reflecting

Author: Marlene Johnson

At the end of this tutorial the learner will be able to demonstrate what is necessary to be an active listener.

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The "Active" Part: Summarizing, Paraphrasing, Reflecting

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Have you ever been speaking to someone about something important, and you feel that they don't get it? That you're just not heard? They don't hear you?

So what do you do? You might repeat yourself or speak more forcefully, louder, thinking, well, maybe they'll get it if I say it again. It can be very frustrating.

Well, I'm Marlene, and today I want to talk with you about active listening-- here-- as a skill. And it's something that we can use as listeners to check in with the speaker to let them know that we are hearing them, that we do want to understand their message.

Now, there are three skills in particular that are part of active listening that I want to talk with you about. And they are summarizing, paraphrasing, and reflecting. So let's look at each of these.

Summarizing. When you summarize something, you are letting the speaker know that you get the key points. Notice I've written key points here. It's almost like a checklist. In fact, sometimes you might even want to make a checklist depending on the circumstances and the situation.

But you're letting the person know you get it. So for example, you're talking to your neighbor who's getting ready to do this renovation in the downstairs of the home. And it's an exciting time, but there's a lot to be done. And she starts to share with you some things about the project.

She says, you know, I'm just really frustrated. It's been awhile. The workers are supposed to be here last week, and they weren't so we put off getting ready, because they postponed the project. But now we have to get-- now suddenly they're coming.

So we've got to clear out all the furniture. We have to find some place to put some things in storage. Some of it we have to keep in the house. We've got to get boxes to pack up.

And, oh, we've got to find a place to board the dog for a while. I don't know, maybe my sister will do it. Otherwise, do you know the name of that kennel? I thought you said you knew somebody that ran a kennel and you liked it. Could you give me the name of the kennel please?

So there's a lot in this statement that she's telling you. So if you're going to summarize, you want your neighbor to know you heard these key points. So you might say, wow, you've got a lot to do in just the next few days here.

You've got a clear all the furniture, you've got to find a place for storage, you've got to figure out what to keep in the house. You need to check on a kennel for the dog. You'd like me to find the name of the kennel for you? I can do that. You've got to pick up boxes.

So you repeat back the things that you have heard here. That would be summarizing the list here. Now, this can be a really important skill, particularly, say, in a work situation where maybe you're on a new project and you want to make sure that you understand all the key issues in the project or all the next steps.

Now the next skill here is paraphrasing. And paraphrasing is when you paraphrase, you restate in your own words, what you heard from the speaker. So it's more of a general understanding. It's not the complete checklist.

So for example, you might say to your neighbor, wow, so you've got a lot going on. You've got to deal with the furniture, you've got to deal with the dog, and you'd like some options for where to, perhaps, board the dog. I'll be happy to help you with that.

So very generally you have let your neighbor know that you've heard the key issues here about furniture, about boarding the dog. So it's a general way of saying that you got the heart of the message, you heard what was said.

Now, there's another key skill here that's equally important in active listing, and that is to reflect back what you hear. Reflecting focuses on the emotional content of the message.

So you've got all the key points here, the issues, a general understanding of the content, but is there some emotional content that you might want to reflect back? For example, in this situation here, you might say to your neighbor, wow, it sounds like you're frustrated with the delays in the project and there's so much that you have to do in such a short time. It sounds like you're very frustrated with that.

So you're reflecting back something that you have heard in terms of the emotional content. So you typically will pick that up through tone of voice, body language, maybe some word choice. People don't always say, I am very frustrated. But you can pick that up by what you hear.

So these are three skills that you can use to reflect back to the speaker that you have heard the message. So which one do you use? Well, I think it depends on the situation, and it depends on what you're picking up verbally and nonverbally from the person who's talking.

And you might use more than one. You might paraphrase something and then step forward and reflect the emotion that you hear as well. And typically, if you feel like you have responded in one way but it wasn't quite enough, you can respond again. Use another one of these skills. The point is to be present, to show the speaker that you are wanting to understand, and that you are giving that person you're undivided attention.

Now, a response is not the same as an agreement. Response is not an agreement. So what you are doing here is letting the person know that you have heard them. Not necessarily that you agree with anything they're saying.

There might be instances where someone is very upset or very angry about a particular person or event and you want them to understand that you get how they feel, how they see this event. Doesn't mean that you necessarily agree, but you want them to know you understand where they're coming from.

So active listening, very key skill in communicating with people, particularly in conflict resolution or any time that you've got someone who's speaking to you and wants to make sure that you have heard them and understood. Thank you for joining me, and I look forward to next time.

  • Summarize

    In active listening, repeating key points of a speaker's message to show understanding.

  • Paraphrase

    in active listening, restating a speaker's message in the listener's own words to show understanding.

  • Reflect

    In active listening, indicating that the emotional content or purpose of a message has been heard and understood.