Paraphrasing is a basic communications skill. It can be learned, and improves one's ability to listen and hear what others are saying.

THE PROBLEM: Tell someone your phone number and s/he will usually repeat it to make sure s/he heard it correctly. However, if you make a complicated statement, most people will express agreement or disagreement without trying to ensure that they are responding to what you intended. Most people seem to assume that what they understand from a statement is what the other person intended. This is not true.

How do you check to make sure that you understand another person's ideas, information or suggestions as s/he intended them? How do you know that the speaker's remark means the same to you as it does to her/him?

You can get the other person to clarify the remark by asking, "What do you mean?" or "Tell me more" or by saying "I don't understand."   However, after s/he has elaborated you still face the same question.   "Am I understanding his/her idea as s/he intended it to be understood?"   Your feeling of certainty is not evidence that you do, in fact, understand.

THE SKILL: If you state in your own way what the speaker's remark conveys to you, the speaker can begin to determine whether her/his message is coming through as s/he intended. Then, if s/he thinks you misunderstood, s/he can speak directly to the specific misunderstanding you have revealed.

Paraphrasing is a way of revealing your understanding of the speaker's comment in order to test your understanding. Usually this means taking what the speaker said, putting it in your own words and then noting whether the speaker nods in agreement or modifies your response.


  1. It proves to the speaker that not only have you heard him/her, you have understood him/her.
  2. It shows the speaker that you are interested in him/her as a person.
  3. It is a check on the accuracy of your assumptions about what the speaker intended to communicate.
  4. It encourages the speaker to speak out more and share more of him/herself.
  5. It reduces defensiveness in the speaker.

Return to Index of O.D. Handouts