How to Summarise a Conversation And Show You're Listening

Published on 12/02/2020


One of the best ways to show someone that you have listened to what they’ve had to say and leave them with a sense of confidence is to summarise the conversation at the end. 

It sounds strange, to feedback on what the discussion was about, but a quick and accurate summary can actually help the other person feel that a) you listened, b) you understood and c) that, if necessary, you’re going to do something about what you’ve discussed.

If you’re dealing with a customer complaint, summarising the discussion is a must-do. This isn’t quite so necessary if you’re simply having a conversation with a colleague around the breakout furniture, or you’re collaborating around the boardroom tables, but if the discussion is quite deep, it has a meaning, and it’s with someone who is vital to the overall smooth running of the business, summarising is a great idea. 

What is Summarising?

A summary should be done at the end of the conversation. 

Let’s use a customer complaint as a good example here. 

Perhaps you have invited the customer into the office to discuss their problem after you had a phone call or received a letter explaining their grievances. They’re likely to be a little upset still, possibly quite angry. In this case, allowing them to air their grievances and for you to show that you’re listening, is vital. 

You can do this by nodding along, making agreeable noises, ensuring that your body language is positive, and avoiding interrupting. At the end, summarising the conversation, in this case, shows the customer that you’ve not only taken on board what they’ve said but that you’ve also understood properly. 

For the business, that cuts down on the chances of further misunderstandings and problems and ensures that the complaint can be ironed out far easier than otherwise. 

How to Summarise

The best way to summarise is to wait until the end of the conversation and avoid interrupting. You can ask questions throughout the conversation, for sure, but make sure that when you do this, you’re not interrupting the flow of the conversation from the customer’s end. Wait for a natural pause and ask a relevant question. 

To summarise, at the natural end of the conversation say something like “thank you for explaining this to me, I’ll just summarise my understanding of what you’ve told me, and please correct me if any points are incorrect”. Then, pick out the main points of the conversation and be sure to relay them in a way which is accurate and without being patronising.

This is a great way to make a good impression on customers and clients because it shows that you paid attention and that you care enough to make sure that you have got the finer details right. 

It’s not only complaints that work well with this kind of approach. You can summarise any conversation you have if you want to, but it’s not usually necessary for casual chats. However, if you are collaborating and several ideas have come to the fore, it might be useful for the leader of the discussion, or a specific person if there is no leader, to quickly summarise the main ideas that have come from that discussion. 

Brainstorming sessions and meeting with several people within them can often become chaotic, especially if several people are talking at once. Summarising at the end can cut down on confusion and can ensure that the main points are covered. As a result, nothing is missed, individuals can speak up at that point if something hasn’t been caught in the summary, and there is less chance of a misunderstanding occurring.

Summarising a discussion is a great way to show someone that you’ve understood them and it’s ideal for avoiding misunderstandings, however, it’s vital that you do this at a natural end of a conversation and don’t simply use it as a tactic to stop a conversation going on too long!

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