Merge's Blog

Communicate with compassion by paraphrasing at the 3rd or 4th level

Today’s blog post is another tip in our ongoing video series on how to lead and communicate with compassion.  In Strategy #3, I spoke about getting to know your people and in Strategy #8, I talked about being a mindful active listener.  Today’s strategy builds on both these highly-effective tools and makes their impact even more powerful.  It is to paraphrase at the 3rd or 4th level.

Paraphrase at the 3rd or 4th level

Now I realize that I probably need to explain that further.  So here goes.  When I talked about mindful active listening, I said that one way to do that was to reflect back what you heard, or paraphrase.  But there is paraphrasing, and then there is good paraphrasing.  There are actually four levels of paraphrasing based on work done by prominent social scientist, Dr. Robert Carkhuff:

  1. Paraphrase content
  2. Paraphrase feelings
  3. Paraphrase feelings and content
  4. Paraphrase feelings, content, and meaning

And today’s strategy is to paraphrase at the 3rd and 4th level.

When you paraphrase at the 3rd or 4th level, you communicate with compassion

Let me give you an example to illustrate the differences between each level so that you can communicate with compassion. Let’s say one of your staff members has just entered your office clearly frustrated. She is completely overwhelmed by the unexpected number of requests for assistance that are coming in from the field. As a result, she is having trouble meeting her commitments on a special project initiative she is also participating in. And to make things worse, both her young children have just been diagnosed with measles. “And,” she says, clearly at the end of her rope, “I’ve just been told by IT that my laptop likely has a virus and will need to be taken away for a couple of days!”  As you paraphrase to show her that you’re listening, here’s what the four levels of paraphrasing might look like:

  1. Level one is where you paraphrase content. So you might say: “You have lot happening right now. feeling
  2. Or you could take your depth of listening to the second level, where you paraphrase feelings. “I can see that you are very stressed and upset.”  Certainly, the second level is an improvement over the first.
  3. But if you want to paraphrase more effectively, then you need to move to the third level where the focus is on paraphrasing both feelings and content. “I can see that all these conflicting demands – field requests, project team responsibilities, and dealing with two sick children – are overwhelming you and causing you great anxiety. Plus, it seems that the virus in your laptop is just making an already difficult situation worse for you.”
  4. But to go to a deeper level of empathy, you will need to move to the fourth level in which you paraphrase feelings, content, and meaning. “You seem overwhelmed and stressed with field requests, responsibilities to your project team, sick children at home, and of course the computer virus here in the office. You are afraid that someone will be upset and feel let down if you don’t get everything done. It’s hard for you not to be all things to all people.” This fourth example is empathetic listening at its finest, but it means that you have to know your employee beyond just a superficial level. You have to know her strengths and her weaknesses. And that is why Strategy #3 – get to know your people is so important.  If you haven’t followed strategy #3, then you can’t get to meaning.  But that is exactly why this fourth level is so powerful in terms of building and advancing relationships; it demonstrates to your employee that you have taken the trouble to get to know her as an individual, and that you value her talents and recognize her vulnerabilities.

When you are a mindful active listener who reflects back, AND you take the time to get to know your people, you have what you need to paraphrase at the 3rd and 4th level.  And THIS is how you communicate with compassion.

I’d love to know your thoughts on today’s strategy.  Does it make sense to paraphrase at the 3rd or 4th level?  What is getting in your way?  Please add your comment below.

If you’d like to access all the previous strategies in this series, you can do so here: Creating a compassionate workplace video series

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