Paraphrasing, Not Parrot Phrasing!

Anna Warren

New Year Image

Instructional Coaching. Leadership Coaching. If you’ve been the “coachee” in any of these situations, you probably know what it feels like to have your coach repeat back to you what you have just said. Because of their clear and concise way of saying it, though, you exclaim, “that’s exactly what I mean!” You might even have an “AHA” moment after your coach summarizes something you’ve just spent 2 minutes trying to articulate. “YES! That’s it!” is your response. Suddenly your own thinking becomes crystal clear.

Your coach isn’t just pulling this out of his hat, trying to prove he’s Super Listener or has somehow read your mind. He’s using a coaching skill called paraphrasing. It’s much more than what you think. Read on for more details on this tried and true skill for helping people with their own thinking.

What It Is

According to, paraphrasing is a restatement of speech or writing that retains the basic meaning while changing the words. A paraphrase often clarifies the original statement by putting it into words that are more easily understood.

Here's an example of a paraphrase in a coaching conversation:
I am working hard not to get emotional and anxious during this time of the year. It’s a busy month, with end of year parties, graduation, finals, summer jobs beginning, and vacations starting. I sure get worked up about all those things, but if I would plan in advance, like I did last year, I probably wouldn’t get so anxious.

Coach Paraphrase:
You already know that this time of year is a stress inducer, and you have strategies to draw upon to make it easier.

What It Is Not

Paraphrasing is not simply repeating the exact words (or almost exact words) back to the speaker/writer (like a parrot would).

Here is a non-example of a paraphrase for the statement above:
You get emotional and anxious during this time of the year but you know if you would plan in advance you wouldn’t be so anxious.

To ensure you're a Paraphraser and not a Parrot Phraser, we've compiled the following tips and strategies to help make your next coaching session a success.

Paraphrasing tips for your coaching conversations

  1. Capture what is being said, not what they aren’t saying.
  2. Shorter is better.
  3. Use “you”, not “I”. The paraphrase is not for your thinking. It is for the coachee-to affirm their thinking.
  4. Listen intently first to paraphrase successfully.

Paraphrasing Sentence Starters

  1. You’re feeling __________.
  2. You’re noticing __________.
  3. Your key concerns are __________ and __________.
  4. You value __________, so __________.
  5. Your goal is __________, so __________.
  6. You want __________, so __________.

Happy Paraphrasing!

(Inspired by the teachings of Cognitive Coaching Seminars Foundation Training Learning Guide, 9th Edition; Costa A., & Gramston R., 2013 & Region 13’s Coaching and Leadership Development Center, Leadership Coach Training, 2007.)

Saturday, June 20, 2015