Use this technique when someone’s upset

May 10, 2021
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Paraphrasing back to someone what you heard them say is a useful technique when someone is getting upset. It can help keep you both in dialogue when emotions are getting strong, keeping you both from going to silence or violence. It’s a way to keep putting information into the pool of meaning. When used with a neutral tone, paraphrasing can help build connection.This works in part because paraphrasing gives the other person time to reflect on what they’ve said, and maybe delve deeper into it themselves.

When dealing with upset or emotional people, paraphrasing is best formatted as a non-threatening question that 1) reveals our own understanding and 2) opens the door for corrections from the speaker, as in:

“Are you reacting to how many times I missed deadlines last week?”

“Are you asking me to tell you my reasons for being late?”

“What specifically did I do that you’re referring to?”

These questions require we sense what is going on inside someone beyond their words, to comprehend their underlying feelings and needs. They don’t simply ask for information without first sensing their reality, as in:

“What do you want me to do about it?”

Your tone is equally as important as the words.

When people hear themselves reflected back, even the slightest hint of sarcasm, declaration, or negativity, will imply that you’re telling, not listening.

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