Rephrasing and paraphrasing superpowers you can use

We all love discussions where we quickly agree on the issue at hand and needed actions. Let's do a quick dive into two easy-to-use methods for this.

What is the key to a successful meeting? Common knowledge of what, who and when needs to do to reach X - let me rephrase it - an actionable output. If we can reach it faster, great! If we can avoid the frustration of being misunderstood or the feeling of speaking to a wall - even better!

A no-so-secret goal of a good discussion is understanding the other people's problems and goals so we understand why they prefer X over Y and where we can get a compromise and still be happy with the output.

Paraphrasing and rephrasing, a combo made in heaven

Paraphrasing is taking someone else's words and saying or writing it in a different way to make it your own. Rephrasing, however, is saying or writing something in a different way (mostly to make it clearer).

The same approach but a different goal, rephrasing is about making a brief and clear summary, paraphrasing is repeating but from our point of view/how we understand the original author.

Paraphrasing as a steering wheel

Somebody is asking you a very hard question, or maybe making a tough point that you don't agree with or would like to steer away from in this meeting? Take her/his words and turn them around and repeat. "Do I understand that correctly....?", it gives you time to answer it, the power to link topics, and allows you to focus on the part that you would prefer. It is a great and polite tool to efficiently steer a discussion back on track, use it wisely and you can make your meetings less frustrating to you and others. There is a great (and short) article on paraphrasing by Matt Abrahams.

Rephrasing as a finding common ground

When someone goes into a long and complex monolog on a particular issue, try to wrap it up with a rephrasing by making a clear summary of it. This is a great tool to find the most important topic that you need to address and leave out (for a moment) side issues. This gives you very similar powers to paraphrasing by allowing you to underline particular aspects - "as Thomas said a major problem in the area of our checkout process is the reliability of XYZ service, and it is low due to lack of proper testing. How we can improve it?", also you can make sure you correctly understand another person by directly asking "Do I understand correctly the root cause of our issues is XYZ?"


In any conversation the sooner you will understand the point of view of other parties and take a side view on your own opinions - the better. Paraphrasing and rephrasing are easy-to-use tools that can efficiently push meeting forward with minimal work. Both are quite well received as you are ensuring your discussion partners that you are paying attention.

What is your way to make discussions more efficient?

Bonus:  a hyperbole (gloves off)

Personally, I would advise against using it as it can be quite frustrating to participants and might kill also future initiatives. It is taking a particular statement and exaggerating it to its limit, or proposing to consider an extreme worst-case scenario. "This a great process in most cases, but how it would behave if ...", "Are you proposing ..., because it looks to me like you do".  Considering corner cases or worst cases is important (especially in software development) but hyperbole can often come out as a hostile personal attack and should be carefully used if ever in such a way.

Bonus2: exercise time

If you want to practice stepping into other people's opinions on any topic, an Oxford-style debate is a great practice to do so. You often have to defend a topic that personally you don't agree with, and you have to find arguments to support it.


a16z Podcast - The Art and Science of Moderating Discussions

Matt Abrahams: The Power of the Paraphrase