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Reduce misunderstanding November 8, 2008

Posted by rickbron in Bronder On People, Getting requests completed, Management Principle.
Tags: , , ,

p5130012.jpg  Do people frequently misunderstand you? Do you find yourself saying or thinking, “That is not want I wanted?” With all that we have to do, we do not take the time to make sure we are understood. We usually end our communication with one of these two questions:

  1. Do you have any questions? (They reply ‘No”.)
  2. Do you understand what I need? (They reply “Yes”.)


Once we hear one of these responses, we go blithely on our way thinking they actually understood us! The Big Dogz know that these two questions are dangerous and the answers they provide leave us vulnerable to disappointment.  The Big Dogz ask a different question. They ask for a paraphrase!


We frequently don’t ask for a paraphrase because we are in a hurry and do not have the time. On the other hand, perhaps we think the other person may be insulted by us asking for a paraphrase. Sometimes we believe we were so clear, it would be impossible to misunderstand what we said. All these reasons are just excuses. Asking for a paraphrase doesn’t cause any of these things. In fact, it reduces the probability of misunderstanding.


Here are some effective phrases you can use to get a paraphrase when you are finished communicating:

  1. Please describe to me what you think I said.
  2. What have I asked you to do?
  3. I am working on my communications skills and want to be sure that I told you everything you need to know. Can you please tell me what you heard?
  4. This information is critical and we need to be sure I communicated everything about it. Please tell me what you heard.
  5. I think I may have left something out, but I am not sure. Can you summarize what you heard?


You will be amazed at the results you get! It is possible they have no clue what you said. It may be that they got 90% of what you said. An even more surprising result would be that they actually understood what you said. Now, this is the result you are after.


Asking for a paraphrase may cause surprise in some people, especially if you haven’t done it before. If you want to check this out for yourself, check how many times you see people not asking for a paraphrase in key communication situations. Asking for a paraphrase is what distinguishes the Big Dogz from the rest of the pack.


Once you make it a practice to ask for a paraphrase, people will automatically give you one because they know you will ask for it. Asking for a paraphrase does take more time, but it is a wise investment. It helps to build solid relationships and insures that you get the result you asked for.

If you asked people to paraphrase everything you said, it would get annoying. So here are 5 situations when it is imperative for you to ask for that paraphrase:

  1. You are explaining a complex issue
  2. You are asking someone to do a task for you
  3. The results are critical
  4. You make a commitment to someone
  5. You will not be available for follow up questions


Asking for a paraphrase will take some getting used to. Experiment with this technique over the next thirty days to see if using it gets you running with the Big Dogz.  Send me an email to let me know how it works for you: rbronder@gmail.com




1. Dan Erwin - November 9, 2008

I think you can move beyond paraphrasing. The typical routine of questioning goes like this: “did you hear me?”–the answer is always yes. “Did you understand me?”–the answer is nearly always yes. “Repeat what I said…” He can parrot without significant understanding. “Put in your own words (paraphrase) what I said.” He can do that without in-depth understanding….

I find this question to be the ultimate: “Based on our discussion, what steps do you intend to take (and you haven’t talked about the steps)?” Or, “How will you go about resolving this issue?” Or, “with this understanding, how do you plan to attack the problem?” I can ask those questions because I haven’t discussed my approach to resolution–he has to think through his approach to resolution, and then I can more effectively assess his response. Slick, eh??? If he doesn’t respond appropriately, I can recycle the conversation.

2. rickbron - November 14, 2008

Your technique sounds effective. Finding out next steps would be an effective way to see if they understood. Somehow, I will get your input into a post.
Your comment also helps me when people say “won’t the person be insulted in you ask them to repeat?’ your technique certainly demonstrates understanding. Thanks for sharing

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