Do I? Do I What?

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Do I understand you


  correctly to mean…? 


 Can you give me


an example?


When you’re not 100% sure that you fully understand the meaning and intent of someone’s words, ask paraphrasing-type questions

. . . and ask for examples.


Asking these two questions is evidence of quality leadership. Because true leaders listen. Paraphrasing and asking for examples are key indicators of effective listening. The responses clarify. The responses help ensure accurate two-way communications, and they help prevent errors and misunderstandings.

Simply by posing these two questions (plus this one), leaders can help agitated people (e.g., upset employees, irate customers, impatient investors) to jet down. The asking alone serves to build trust, loyalty, teamwork, and promote open innovative exchanges. It also, by the way (but not unimportantly), reassures, flatters, and compliments.   

Used correctly, paraphrasing is equally effective in personal life as well as business. Business partners, employer/employee and parent/child relations, teacher/student, married and unmarried couples and family relationships can all benefit by using paraphrasing.

It is, in effect, a clarification checkpoint practice that works. 


What does “used correctly” mean? Process. Dynamics. The process and dynamics of asking the questions — the how, when, where, and circumstances; the nature of the people involved; the nature of the actions to be taken or tasks to be done– all have a bearing on the value of the outcome. How you ask. Your tone of voice. Your posture.

Yes, some could see this kind of attention to communication detail as a lot of unnecessary work. Those people are choosing to feel threatened by the intrusion of having to expend extra energy and time (yes, it will take more time that “normal” for a meeting or phone call or e-exchange) to get stuff right the first time instead of on a re-visit.

If you’re not presently building these kinds of questions into your daily practice of leadership –business, home, professional practice, community organization, classroom makes no difference– put it to the test. You will find, inside of just three weeks, major improvement at many levels, including increased receptivity.

You can greatly enhance the prospects for yourself to succeed with this challenge by adding note taking to your listening time. If you think it makes people feel good to be asked if you’ve understood something correctly, or to provide an example, wait ’til you see their faces when you start jotting down what they say.

Back to the agitated communicators, when you can also ask someone: “Would you mind please slowing down (or repeating what you just said) so I can make some reminder notes for myself to be sure I don’t miss any of the important things you say, I will appreciate it. Now if I understand you correctly to mean…?” You defuse the upset.

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