Listening Tip: Use their language

People’s words are important to them. Even when we speak the same language, there are differences in the way we use words – professional groups have their own jargon, young people have their fashionable phrases and so on. In fact, once you explore the detail, each person uses language in a unique way, and the words they choose have a specific meaning for them.

When you use their own words back to them, they tend to feel respected, acknowledged and understood. This approach can help to build rapport, and liberates their thinking so that they have greater cognitive resources available for the issue in hand.

Using a person’s own words in your question shows that you have really been listening to them. So don’t paraphrase, ‘parrot-phrase’!

You could just repeat a few of the person’s words in a curious tone, encouraging them to elaborate on the point they have just made. Or you might choose to direct their attention to something specific by asking a ‘Clean Language’ question.

These questions are designed to incorporate the person’s words. For example, you might ask: “What kind of X is that?” where X represents a word or phrase they have used.

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