Ensuring Understanding

By Rhonda Coast

When communicating, it’s the responsibility of the listener to make sure that he or she understands completely.  Communication moves both ways.  Here are some active listening and speaking rules for the listener.

You have the right to understand.  Let a speaker know when you do not understand.
Check to make sure that what you understood is correct.
You can politely interrupt a conversation when you have stopped understanding.  Stopping others in the middle of conversations is normal and expected in order to make your understanding clear.  Here are some polite phrases you can use:

“Excuse me.  I did not understand what you said.”
“Can you repeat that?”
”What does that mean?”
“I do not understand.”
“Can you explain it to me another way?”
“Am I explaining myself clearly?”
“Did I answer your question?”

Confirm understanding:

Ask the other person to restate what they think you said
Restate what you believe the other person said in new words and summarize it:
You seem to be saying that…
If I hear you correctly, you’re saying…
If I’m following you, you’re telling me that…
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re thinking that…
Let me see if I understand what you have been saying.  You said…
In other words, your aim is to…
As I understand, you’re trying to…
From what you’ve said, it seems that…
sure I understand.  You said that…
Let me make


Repeat facts such as times, dates and names as a question to confirm if they are correct or not:  “10:00 a.m., right?”  “Nov. 15?”  “John Smith?”

Make a more specific statement.  For example:
Other person:  I think this is a lousy report.
You:  You mean the content is unclear?
Other person:  No, the paper quality is poor and the print is too light.
Give an example to fit the other person’s statement.
Other person:  This presentation is hard to follow.

Photo by Wiertz Sébastien