Organizational Consultation XXII: Empowerment (Part Two)

Organizational Consultation XXII: Empowerment (Part Two)

Effective paraphrasing is not a trick or a verbal gimmick. It comes from an attitude, a desire to know what the other person means. To satisfy this desire, you reveal the meaning his comment had for you so that he can check whether it matches the meaning he intended to convey. If the other person’s statement was general, it may convey something specific to you:

Larry: “I think this is a very poor training manual.”

You: “Poor? You mean it has too many inaccuracies?”

Larry: “No, the text is accurate, but the manual comes apart too easily.”

Possibly the other person’s comment suggests an example to you:

Laura: “This training manual has too many omissions; we shouldn’t adopt it.”

You: “Do you mean, for example, that it contains nothing about the role of managers in the developed of business plans?”

Laura: “Yes, that’s one example. It also lacks any discussion of the development of personnel policies.”

If the speaker’s comment was very specific, it may convey a more general idea to you:

Ralph: “Do you have 25 training manuals I can borrow for my class?”

You: “Do you just want the basic manual or should I get you the annotated version?”

Ralph: “Just the basic manual will do. Thanks”

Sometimes the other person’s idea will suggest its inverse or opposite to you.

Clare: “I think the Union acts so irresponsibly because the Administration has ignored them so long.”

You: “Do you mean that the Union would be less militant now if the Administration had consulted them in the past?”

Clare: “Certainly. I think the Union is being forced to more and more desperate measures.”

Some persons have difficulty learning to paraphrase because they view the task as a kind of mind reading. They believe they are expected to say what the other person is thinking. Of course, they feel inadequate to such a task. However, the task is a simple one if you remember that you are trying to reveal what the other’s comment means to you. Your paraphrase is not an attempt to prove that you can read the other’s thoughts but to let him know what meaning you get from his statements. As a matter of fact, if your paraphrase turns out to be quite different from what he intended, you may often find that it elicits important additional information. Sometimes it is helpful to make a paraphrase that you anticipate will almost certainly be wide of what your colleague intended. As the speaker gives additional clarification, both of you may get a clearer conception of his point. Your wide paraphrase can help the speaker clarify his own understanding of his point.


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William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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