Paraphrasing is restating the main idea of the speaker’s message in live conversation to show and check — verify or clarify — your understanding of the facts or content of that message. It’s a restatement in your own words but not a reiteration of the speaker’s exact words. The latter tends to be mimicking, which usually turns people off. Paraphrasing is similar to reflecting feelings except that its purpose is to establish understanding of the content side of the message.
In most cases, you can paraphrase in one sentence. You’re looking to capture the essence of the speaker’s message, not all the details. Quite often, you can set up the paraphrase with starter phrases that cue the speaker that you want to check your understanding. Here are some common starter phrases to use:
- What you’re saying is. . . . (then comes the paraphrase)
- In other words. . . .
- What you mean is. . . .
- What you’re telling me is. . . .
- If I understand your point correctly. . . .
- What I’m hearing you say is. . . .
- Sounds like you’re saying. . . .
Like reflecting feelings, with paraphrasing you’re checking your understanding, not assuming that you know what the speaker means. So you want to have that inquisitive inflection in your voice at the end of the paraphrase statement or add “Is that right?” so that you clearly sound like you’re checking and asking for confirmation in return.