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Psychological Safety

Agile Practices 101

What To Do When… Someone Says Something Confusing

Retrium Team

In an ideal world, every time you spoke, your words would be instantly understood by everyone else.

And yet …

Much of what we say is misunderstood by the people we’re talking to.

In a retrospective, that’s a big problem. Retrospectives rely on group learning and collective decision making. Without a clear understanding of what’s being said, effective conversation can be hard to come by.

That’s why one of the primary responsibilities of the facilitator is to promote mutual understanding. What’s the best way to accomplish that? Paraphrasing.

Paraphrasing is the simple act of summarizing what someone said in your own words. It has two positive impacts:

  1. It helps the speaker feel like he or she is being heard
  2. It gives the speaker an opportunity to correct misunderstandings

So, how do you paraphrase? First, listen closely to what the speaker is saying. Then, preface your summary by saying:

It sounds like you’re saying…” or “Let me see if I’ve got that right.

Paraphrasing is deceptively difficult. It can be hard in the moment to capture the essence of someone else’s comments in a few sentences. Don’t let that stop you. If you’re having difficulty understanding what someone else said, chances are you’re not alone.

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