What difference to outcomes does it make?
On a VERY hot day last week, I was part of a team of six facilitators supporting an awayday for an organisation of 120 staff. This was their first face to face meeting post pandemic, they have created a mixture of new hybrid professional offerings, recruited many new staff and wanted a clear signal for everyone to step up from surviving to thriving in a big, joyful and obvious way.
As well as sharing company direction, they wanted a step up in skills with each other too, and guest speaker Richard Mullender sparked their interest in improving their ability to collaborate across departments by listening to understand.
Listening to understand reminded me of much of my own training when becoming a coach, with a process something like this:
Person speaking: Shares what is on the mind; their issue, concern, opportunity
Person listening: Uses a qualifying phase such as “it seems to me, or “I’m wondering if”, then paraphrases what they have heard, and then asks – is this right?”
Person speaking: “Yes exactly” – or- “No, not at all” – or (and often it is this one) – “It’s a bit more like this….”
Why does this formula of:
- “It seems to me/I’m wondering if”
- Paraphrasing what has been said
- Asking if their understanding is right
work so well?
There are many possible explanations. It’s:
- respectful of the person speaking and sharing their thoughts; mentioning them in the listener’s reply
- wanting to check understanding, before offering input or advice in any way
- building a relationship, as well as creating understanding to solve a task as well.
This approach allows the listener to check for emotion, as well as factual accuracy. Which in turn can reduce frustration, reduce the emotional intensity and allow more imaginative, insightful thinking to happen.
These possible explanations are backed up by the participant felt experience of this approach.
Speakers can find talking in this way freeing, encouraging, cathartic, enlightening and as a way to receive empathy. Some find it fun, and some find it awkward too!
Listeners can find reflecting back and paraphrasing in this way interesting, insightful, helpful, engaging and also enlightening.
Listeners say things like:
• “It’s so insightful to actively listen to another’s perspective”
• “I’m fascinated that we feel the same”
• “It’s an honour to consciously ask questions to further the conversation”.
The organisation I was working with last week loved this approach. It was a joy to assist them develop skills to work more effectively across departments, now motivated to deliver even better outcomes for their clients.
Would investing in these skills – reflecting back, paraphrasing, listening for emotion, developing connection, improving outcomes – help your team or your organisation too?
They are a core component of managers developing coaching and mentoring skills. I have a range of materials to help: for you as an individual, for use with your team or if needed, your whole organisation.
What would be a next step for you?
Gill How loves to work internationally with managers, executives and professionals to help them to evolve, stretch and grow their leadership capability. She is a Master Executive Coach and innovative Leadership Developer. If she can help you in developing the potential of women and men in your organisation, contact her at
You may also know that Gill is co-founder of the Women in Transport Leadership Programme, Lead. The next programme starts in September. Here is what one of our previous participants has to say:
“One of the most engaging and vibrant programmes I have ever been on! Such a great way to develop as a leader and meet truly fascinating women – thank you so much!”
Daisy Chapman-Chamberlain, Rail Knowledge Transfer Manager, Innovate UK KTN.
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