The power of summarizing. How good are you at one of the oldest and most powerful influencing techniques in the world of business? If you aren’t, do you realize what you are missing?
The Power of Summarizing (Audio)
Don’t you admire when you observe someone displaying the ability to cut down a lengthy dispensation down to the three or four key attributes that really matter? You know, summarizing the essence crisply and sharply? How well do you do that? What do you think it would change for you if you were really good at it? What are the aspects that make this so powerful?
I use this concept in many different aspects in my coaching and mentoring work. It is something I teach a lot of my business clients to become aware of and develop into a really good strength. It features prominently in my soft skills training in my self-leadership skills, listening skills, diplomacy skills, advanced rapport and communications skills, performance management skills, presentation skills and negotiations skills modules.
We all use this skill all the time, don’t we? Think about when you’ve seen a good movie – don’t you try and summarize the key points when outlining the movie to someone else afterwards?
In my negotiation skills grooming I work with the concept of chunking whereby when we are chunked up we are usually operating our communication at a more strategic level, where things matter conceptually. This is usually where we start our discussions or negotiations, where we are likely to be in agreement. As the discussions go more into the detail so the risk of us “getting lost in the detail” grows and so we traverse up and down this axis driving the chunk levels up and down to suit our purpose until we have found agreement.
I teach my clients in this process to use summarizing where they have got the discussion to as often as possible and practical. That way you can remind everyone how far you have already come together and summarize what you have already agreed upon; to use that to subtly influence the outcome in your favour. I also recommend adding in at that point encouraging terms like: “you know, I don’t think we are actually that far apart here….” to keep the momentum going.
It’s a little like using the power of the minute taker. I’ve said before that history is usually written by the victor and emphasized how much subtle power the recorder of the outcomes can have to influence the outcome. Why not use summarizing in the same light? It is certainly used in “spin” as I outlined in my blog last week called Managing Spin.
In my recent blog Coping: Getting on top of Meetings I suggested that if the chairperson or minute taker in a meeting doesn’t, how you could offer to summarize the key outcomes of that meeting for your and for everyone’s clarity and benefit. This process will also significantly add to your visibility.
I am known to provide very clear (and also detailed) written notes of the main content and outcome items of each and every coaching session for my clients. I have taught myself to just jot down very cryptic notes on a piece of paper during the conversations which serve to remind me of the context, the gist and the content of each discussion item or outcome. Having summarized the key points (or better still have the client summarize them) makes it easy to remember and play them back into writing afterwards. Win – win – win.
However, this visibility shouldn’t only feature in meetings. I believe summarizing is a great skill to become “known for”. Perhaps you already do that? Perhaps you can still get better at it? Perhaps it isn’t something you are known for – yet? Perhaps it is just a matter of reminding yourself to utilize every opportunity to practice it? How easy is it to say at the end of a chat or a coffee meeting or a conversation: “do you mind if I quickly summarize my understanding of what we have just …..?” I can guarantee that it will have a growing and positive impact on your visibility.
I’m sure you have heard of the presentation technique whereby you:
- first tell them what you are going to tell them (introduction overview)
- then tell them (main body)
- and then finally tell them what you told them (summarize into conclusion)
My clients learn that for a presentation to be successful, everyone in the audience needs to walk away with a few “key zingers” or takeaway points by which they will remember your presentation (and you of course) as well as do something differently from thereon in. Summarizing those key points for them will help assure this as an outcome for you and for them.
In my listening as well as in my advanced rapport and communication skills grooming and training I teach the technique of encouraging someone who is “venting” in anger to encourage them to keep venting to “get it all out”. I emphasize never at that point to agree or disagree with anything they are ranting about or “take sides”, but rather to just ensure they keep going and only when there isn’t any further “grumble” left to offer to summarize your understanding of what is annoying them so much. To play it back or paraphrase it by asking: “is it OK if I play back my understanding of what’s bugging you to be sure we’ve got it all?” Usually at that point the other person is more ready to have a “normal discussion” of the facts, aren’t they?
Most of us are busy, busy, busy most of the time, aren’t we? And most of us lack the time to read lengthy texts or emails, don’t we? This is why we are taught to use “executive summaries”, so that we can read the key points and be sufficiently informed, without having to wade through all the detail. (Maybe another reason I added an audio version of my blog articles?). In the Internet we learn to have lots of headings in our web pages whereby the heading or the key phrase is highlighted, allowing the eye to “skim” down the page and take in the gist of it. Summarizing can have the same purpose and the same effect.
So what if you became more aware of this skill and practice and focused on finding opportunities to practice it this week? What if you found that it helped you find better clarity of outcome in all your conversations or meetings? What if it also assisted others to have better clarity? What if it helped your visibility? What if it helped you become known for someone “that really gets it”? Can you see how it can help influence others thinking that you are “really switched on” or “really bright” or a “really good communicator”?
What if you could?
Great points again Heiner.
Summarising is indeed a great power, and I always admire people who cut to the heart of a matter or issue – they manage to disregard the irrelevant information and focus on the important stuff.
I also like the words we use to describe the opposite ‘power’ – like when someone is ‘waffling’… 🙂