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  • Writer's pictureBrad Gay

The Art of Clarification

Want to avoid misguided perceptions between an angry parent or colleague? Then seek first to understand then be understood.
STEP 1: Paraphrase the content back

When you paraphrase back you are letting the person know you are listening deeply. Doing this lets them know you’re interested in hearing their point of view, and if you remove all sarcasm and “attitude” from your voice, you’ll sound interested and curious, not judgmental.

  • What I hear you saying is ________. Is that right?

  • Let me see if I’m understanding you right…

  • In other words, _____

STEP 2: Identify the emotion

The other person will really feel heard if you can label the emotion they are describing, or ask a question to clarify the emotion. Here are some examples:

  • That sounds frustrating.

  • It sounds like you’re feeling worried.

  • So you felt confused?

  • How did you feel about that?

STEP 3: Communicate and validate

An important third step is validating the person by letting them know that you accept their feelings as they are. You may not feel the same way, and their feelings might create problems for you, but they are what they are. Try some of these phrases:

  • I can see why you’d feel that way.

  • A lot of people feel that way.

  • That’s understandable.

  • It can be (upsetting, frustrating, nerve-racking, scary) when that happens.

Now if you strongly disagree with something a person is saying and you just can’t bring yourself to accept it, try looking for the part you DO agree with, the part you can relate to. When arguing about a proposed new government policy in school, for example, you might really dislike the idea itself, but you can start by saying that you also care very much about student success and you agree that the current system needs fixing.


Once you’ve done these three things—reflected the content, identified the emotion, and validated you may just finish there. You should however be able to move on in an understanding way without lingering misinterpretation.

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