How to summarize concisely and usefully

In the ICF core competency 6 under “Active Listening”, we read: “Reflects or summarizes what the client communicated to ensure clarity and understanding” and the PCC markers elaborate: “Coach succinctly reflects or summarizes what the client communicated to ensure the client’s clarity and understanding.” What I love about the elaboration in the PCC markers is that it shifts the attention from the understanding of the coach (which is almost irrelevant) to the client’s understanding. In the updated core competency 6, there is a lot of language on the coach’s understanding. In the definition we have “focuses on what the client is and is not saying to fully understand what is being communicated” and in point 5, we have “to determine the full meaning of what is being communicated”.

As if there was a possibility to “understand” anyone. Communication is about doing things together and not about information transfer (imhco – in my humble constructionist understanding). So as previously mentioned, summarizing is NOT about checking that your understanding is correct, it is about highlighting snippets of what the client was saying to the client so the client can hear important bits that might get lost in the act of speaking. Rescuing the spoken from the speaking — ok, not rescuing, but offering what you heard as important for the client to pick and elaborate.

So how do you do that?

Let’s practice. In the following text, underline or mark all the words that you would pick out an offer back to the client. Words that are important, meaningful, are about the client’s agency, what matters to the client, what the client already knows etc. I will put in a picture under the text, so don’t scroll down if you don’t want my ideas of what I’d pick up before you do the exercise.

Client: I’m just realizing something. I think … It’s really weird. I’m very impatient when it comes to getting things done for my business. I just want them to be done and that’s why I do them and then there are always 1,017 new ideas that I can put out there and I literally even have to keep myself from doing them because I’m saying no. It can be you always underestimate or you always overestimate what you can do in a week and underestimate what you can do in a year. I think my impatience is in collision with my wanting to enjoy life too and do the important things. Somehow they’re in a battle.

Now over to you — what would you pick? Don’t scroll down. Here is a cute cat picture for you as a space saver:

iStock 108198324
source: istockphoto

Here is what I would highlight in my summary:

Client: I’m just realizing something. I think … It’s really weird. I’m very impatient when it comes to getting things done for my business. I just want them to be done and that’s why I do them and then there are always 1,017 new ideas that I can put out there and I literally even have to keep myself from doing them because I’m saying no. It can be you always underestimate or you always overestimate what you can do in a week and underestimate what you can do in a year. I think my impatience is in collision with my wanting to enjoy life too and do the important things. Somehow they’re in a battle.

And here is why:

The client is “realizing something”: I would pick that up because client’s insights often get forgotten when you don’t collect them during a session

The realization is “weird”: Not sure if I’d actually pick it up, but there is a mystery, something strange attached to the insight and that might be interesting to the client to explore: is it ok that it’s weird? should it be not weird?

The client is impatient to get things done: This self-description seems important — does he client want the impatience or not?

The client has 1017 new ideas: this seems like something the client likes about herself.

The client has to keep herself from implementing them: here, we can see some agency.

The client frames her impatience, wanting to enjoy life and do the important things as if in a battle: this is a powerful metaphor — is this the metaphor she wants? Are there other options for seeing the situation that would be more helpful?

So my (hopefully concise) summary might be: “It’s weird – you have many new ideas and you also are impatient to get things done for your business and therefore you don’t implement the new ideas. It’s like your impatience and your desire to enjoy life and do the important things are in a battle. I am wondering if ‘a battle’ is what you would like their relationship to be or if there is another relationship that might be better?”

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