tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
Rephrasing what somebody said and repeating it back to them is a pretty powerful tool that has several distinct uses (not an exhaustive list):


  1. If you're listening to a friend and want to show that you're really paying attention to what they're saying, you can say, "It sounds like you said X?" Then they'll either say yes, and know that you understand them, or say no and explain what they meant, and you'll understand them better.

    Examples:
    friend: "I keep trying to tell my boyfriend I don't like it when he leaves his socks on the kitchen counter, but he just looks at his phone"
    me: "It sounds like you're frustrated that he's not listening to you"
    friend: "OMG yes!!"

    friend: "I don't like eggplants."
    me: "You mean you think they get too greasy when they're cooked?"
    friend: "No, I mean I'm allergic to them and they kill me."

  2. If you're arguing with somebody who you know you're not going to persuade, and want to accelerate to the point where they say something so ridiculous and unacceptable that you can just point at it and leave, you can rephrase what they're saying to bring out the worst possible interpretation (or just a more complete interpretation) and say, "It sounds you're saying that X? Am I hearing that right?" Then if they agree with you, you can either ask why or leave it at that with the confidence that other people will see why the rephrasing is bad, even if the original euphemistic version wasn't.

    Examples:
    them: "I hate this culture of victimhood that minorities have."
    me: "It sounds like you're saying that it's wrong to be a victim, and victimizing people isn't wrong?"
    them: "Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying!"
    me: "Cool story, bro."

    them: "I hate identity politics."
    me: "Are you saying you hate white male identity politics?"
    them: "No, I just meant when women do it."
    me: "Cool story, bro."

  3. If you're talking with someone who you think might be persuadable, and they say something that's ambiguous, you can pick the best possible interpretation of what they're saying, and say, "Yes, I agree with you that X", without the question. Then if they say, "Yes, totally! That's right!" you'll know that you got through (or that they thought so all along) and if they say, "No!! Why would you think I thought X?" you can repeat the process. Either way, it gets you more data.

    Examples:
    them: "My boss told me to make a diversity hire, and that makes me angry."
    me: "Of course, diversity should be a consideration in all hiring decisions."
    them: "Right!"

    them: "We shouldn't lower the bar."
    me: "I agree with you that we shouldn't lower the bar, and that's why we should hold white men to a higher standard in hiring to counter the effect of their unearned privilege and make sure they're only judged on their competence."
    them: "Wait, what???"


I'm writing all this out because I was raised by Usenet, and had it drilled into me then that you should never say anything unless it was original enough to merit the use of precious, precious bandwidth to distribute your message to nodes around the world. It took me a long time to unlearn that training and realize that sometimes, the most important and useful things you can say are rephrasing or mirroring the person you're talking to.

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Tim Chevalier

April 2017

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