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Empathy and Active Listening

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© Article translated from the book “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace“. copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available. If you are interested in publishing the book in any language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact Dr. Daniele Trevisani.

Questions that Open Up the Person’s World 

As we listen, we know that every word or sentence does not exist alone but is part of pre-existing mental networks and knots, which are touched by communication. 

  1. Each message that touches a point inside a network of meanings stimulates the meanings close to that point.
  2. Messages that pass through cognitive networks and belief systems can change the structure of the network itself. 

Powerful questions can change your mind. Not only they can help us explore people’s inner worlds, but they can also change them by helping the client increase his/her own self-awareness. Receiving the permission/request to ask them, as happens in psychotherapy sessions, is enough. 

Here below you can find some examples of powerful questions, but be aware that they must be used wisely, with professional attitude, and only after receiving the client’s permission: 

  1. How long have you not felt happy? 
  2. What is the atmosphere in your home? 
  3. What do you think is possible and what do you think is impossible in your life? 
  4. What stage are you living in your life? 
  5. What have you not yet dealt with in your life? 
  6. What gives life meaning to you? 
  7. How soon would you like to feel happy? 
  8. What’s the worst thing that doesn’t have to happen in your life? 
  9. What were the worst moments of your life? 
  10. Why did we get there? 
  11. How long have you not felt carefree? 
  12. Who do you feel good with? 
  13. When do you feel good? 
  14. What are the people who give you energy and those who take away that energy from you? 
  15. Do you feel capable of planning your future? 
  16. Do you usually plan something in the day, week, month, year, several years, ever? 
  17. What is the worst offense they could cause you? 
  18. What does an existential refuge represent for you? Where do you go to heal yourself? 
  19. What would you like to do in life before you die?  
  20. How do you feel in the presence of X? (Where X is a significant person) 
  21. What do you need to pay attention to most, in order to improve your life? 
  22. Do you think you have the strength to change something in your life? 
  23. You told me that sometimes you feel like you are in a blender (reformulation). When exactly does it happen, in what situations? 
  24. Are there victims of your actions or behaviours or ways of doing things? 
  25. Who or what do you care most about in life? 
  26. If you had a magic wand and you could make 3 wishes, what would they be? 
  27. What are the quiet moments in which you regenerate? 
  28. Are they enough? 
  29. What are the confusing moments in your life? 
  30. Do you feel that you always have the right energy to face all the situations? 
  31. What is worth fighting for in life, in your opinion? 
  32. What are you fighting for? 
  33. How many energies do you have when you get up in the morning? 
  34. How are your energies when you go to sleep, what are the prevailing thoughts? 
  35. In which moments do you feel more outgoing and in which more introverted? 
  36. What is the thing that would make you say “I did it!”? 
  37. What battles did you give up? 
  38. What are the 2 most negative and the 2 most positive aspects about yourself, in your opinion? 
  39. What would a “plan B” be all right for your life? What options are there? 
  40. When did you feel hurt? 
  41. When did you feel happy beyond all limits? 
  42. If we could identify a micro-action already feasible today or tomorrow, what would that be? 

 

Some of these questions can be asked with special mental training techniques, while lying down with your eyes closed, but this requires a special type of training, because trying to read yourself deeply is not easy and, in that condition the complexity of your inner world increases, and so do the emotional responses, including emotions that lead to crying, anger, suffering, joy, etc. 

Being able to manage these reactions requires special training, at least a counselling course or an advanced coaching course. 

Releasing these responses and the emotions that accompany them is good, since it breaks the “Spiral of Silence” which, like a disease, suffocates people, companies, organizations and entire societies. 

Please note that these questions are specifically used in coaching, counselling, therapy, leadership, and other professional situations involving adults. They should not be used “just to try” especially in family environments and with children or adolescents who are unable to metabolize the emotional weight that these questions create. 

© Article translated from the book “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace“. copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available. If you are interested in publishing the book in any language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact Dr. Daniele Trevisani.

© Article translated from the book “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace“. copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available. If you are interested in publishing the book in any language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact Dr. Daniele Trevisani.

Beliefs are the engine of behaviour. Beliefs can be useful (e.g., if I eat fruit and vegetables, it will be good for me) or lethal (e.g., If I drive fast, nothing will happen to me). 

Listening to beliefs means looking for convictions (rooted beliefs or peripheral beliefs) that the interlocutor consciously or unconsciously expresses. In fact, beliefs are partly conscious, but largely unconscious, not verbalized. Like a swirling wind, beliefs surround people and offer no room to look beyond. If I watch a person lift a barbell, I can think that he has nothing else to do or that he wants to hurt himself, or else I can try to understand why he does it. Most likely, that mechanical gesture – in his view of things – has the purpose of stimulating muscle, burning fat, getting a better physical shape. This way he will like himself more until finally accepting himself. Welcome, we are in a gym. Now, that physical gesture makes sense. At least part of the total sense. But if we ask this person what he is doing, he will hardly say “I want to be more seductive and self-realized“. On the contrary, he will probably say: “I’m working out to stay fit”. We can therefore say that, behind every word or action that we observe (means), there is a purpose that we can discover (end). The Means-End Chain is the basic mechanism through which value is created. 

Let’s look at an analysis carried out in relation to the product “lean yoghurt”. 

The chain in the picture shows several “promises” (on the right) that the customer perceives associated with as many “states” of the product (on the left), up to the point that they become values. 

We note: 

  • concrete attribute (low percentage of fat); 
  • a more intangible and derived attribute connected to it (abstract attribute: fewer calories); 
  • functional consequences (weight loss); 
  • psychosocial consequences (higher social acceptance); 
  • instrumental values (greater self-confidence, increased self-confidence or self-confidence); 
  • Terminal and deeper values of the individual: the increase of self-esteem. 

The analysis of the Means-End Chains highlights a critical point: listening to words means nothing if they remain disconnected from the semantic spheres (areas of meanings) and from the emotions behind them. 

At least 5 “Why” questions are needed to reach a terminal value, and sometimes even more. 

Being aware of the means-end-chains is also essential for asking deep questions in an active listening approach. 

The low-fat content of a yoghurt is not positive or negative, it can be both: for a bricklayer who needs the energy to tackle a strenuous job, a low calorific value is absolutely negative, while for a model stuffed with mental images of thinness, obsessed with staying in shape, is a positive element. The chain exposed above can be one of the several chains that can create a semantic value of the product, but what is more important is that it is subjective. We can also make mistakes trying to understand it, especially when we try to fill the gaps with our personal beliefs. 

Knowing how to listen deeply means coming to realize why people do what they do, finally understanding their means-end chains. We won’t be able to guide a person in a change until we can understand the active means-end-chains, because we are like boats looking for an island surrounded by fog. Being able to listen to the means-ends chains, on the other hand, means shedding light on the reasons behind certain behaviours. This technique is also essential for “cultivating motivation” during coaching sessions, which means unleashing motivation towards positive goals. Because deep and active questions are never neutral towards destiny: questions change people. 

© Article translated from the book “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace“. copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available. If you are interested in publishing the book in any language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact Dr. Daniele Trevisani.

© Article translated from the book “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace“. copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available. If you are interested in publishing the book in any language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact Dr. Daniele Trevisani.

Given the complexity and variety of cases and situations, it is normal to think that, when we ask a question or listen to someone, our mind stays open to whatever information comes in. 

Actually, we can make the following prevalent mistakes.  

 

We just listen to confirm that we are right. Issues of cognitive dissonance in us and in the client 

I called this type of listening “confirmatory listening“, meaning that it only seeks confirmation of being right: the act of listening becomes only a formality before deciding that, just as we thought, we were quite right. 

This type of listening discards much of the incoming information, and, above all, it does not capture those dubious signals that people send out through micro expressions, body gestures and facial expressions that can communicate disapproval, disgust, or surprise. 

It is well known that people carefully avoid exposing themselves to information sources that can disturb their cognitive balances, leading to cognitive dissonances. 

The concept of Cognitive Dissonance was introduced by Leon Festinger and mainly used in social psychology to describe a particular mental processing, where one’s own beliefs, notions and opinions related to a certain topic are in contrast with each other. 

Sometimes we don’t want to know, or we literally prefer not to know something that would alter what we think is true and right. 

Listening to people and their cognitive dissonances is a fundamental exercise. 

Repeating in front of a client a dissonance exactly as it emerged opens the doors to a deep change: e.g., “if I understand correctly, you said that X …, but now you say that Y …“, where X and Y are two conflicting statements made by the same person, who does not realize the existing conflict. 

Of course, the same goes for us. When we discover a cognitive dissonance in us, we must examine it, asking for professional support, like coaching, counselling or therapy, because “holding in the dissonances” means “holding in mental confusion and pain”. 

© Article translated from the book “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace“. copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available. If you are interested in publishing the book in any language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact Dr. Daniele Trevisani.

© Article translated from the book “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace“. copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available. If you are interested in publishing the book in any language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact Dr. Daniele Trevisani.

Beliefs are something that a person possesses and feels, more than material goods. 

Let’s imagine asking a person “what do you think of natural yoghurt”? without really knowing anything about that person, never having met him/her before. 

You might answer “good”, but in reality, what the concept “natural yoghurt” evokes is something far more complex. And are we satisfied with that answer or do we want to analyse it deeply? If we are market researchers, we might be very interested in understanding which “worlds” are hidden behind a word; but it must happen the same even if we are coaches, counsellors or researchers. 

In everyday life, in many cases answering “good” might be enough. I know for example that I can put it in the shopping cart if we have to go on a trip together. But I don’t really know why. 

In this scheme – a true mind map that shows what is evoked in a person’s mind when he/she thinks of “natural yoghurt” – we can observe the great complexity behind it. 

How much of this complexity will we be able to grasp? It depends on our listening skills. This example, mind you, serves as a metaphor. It is necessary to understand that behind words there are “semantic worlds”, “worlds of meanings”. Yoghurt is just an excuse to understand how the mechanism works. 

The mental maps that hide behind words are what interests us, our research. From infinite shades, up to entire universes of meaning that hide in the folds of words. 

And are we really interested in grasping them? It depends. Sometimes it may not interest us, sometimes, especially in companies, it may become what makes the difference between understanding a customer and selling, and not understanding him/her and not selling. The difference between failure and success. 

In the example shown below – resulted from a Danish research carried out among a sample of consumers – we highlight the semantic network that is associated with a specific product, the whole milk yoghurt.  

This is literally “what is on that person’s mind”, his/her “semantic network”. And this is the concept that interests us, beyond yogurt. 

A belief is an idea about “how things work” that is accepted as being true or real. 

The semantic networks linked to the “traditional non-skimmed product” are far from a simple food evaluation. In fact, that product can evoke the “memory of the old days”, a sense of trust that comes from the possibility of having more energy to work hard, a sense of happiness and internal harmony – even though a dissonance between fat content and health can be noted. 

If we compare the previous map with that of a much more “problematic” product (e.g., a genetically modified yoghurt) we can understand how perceptual maps allow us to bring out product perceptions and semantic barriers. 

 

 

The genetically modified product is linked to fears, mistrust, a sense of immorality. “Organic”, psychological evaluative components – such as the dissonance between biological non-naturality and internal harmony -, social and cultural evaluations and the responsibilities for the well-being of humanity come to light: what is my contribution to this purchase? what values do I support? 

This choice cannot be related only to the product as “food”, but it takes on a connotation full of cultural, ethical and social values (what do I do while buying? Who do I finance? What are my values and theirs?). Our evaluation process does not depend on the economic value, but it is highly correlated with the symbolic value assumed by the purchase deed. A central topic related to beliefs listening is the awareness of the “active” semantic networks inside the client. Listening to beliefs is also essential to understand what motivates people. Both ordinary people and great champions formulate beliefs, which firstly become paradigms of truth, and after a time, their own reality. 

© Article translated from the book “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace“. copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available. If you are interested in publishing the book in any language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact Dr. Daniele Trevisani.

© Article translated from the book “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace“. copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available. If you are interested in publishing the book in any language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact Dr. Daniele Trevisani.

Silence, in listening, has its own meanings too. 

Here is an analysis taken from a video by Eckhart Tolle, to understand the deeep meanings that silence8 can have. 

 

Eckhart Tolle 

What lies between words is more important than words. It is not nothingness: it is an energy field. The very fact that you can notice the moments of silence between words means that you are bringing your mental presence to those moments, and that they are significant. 

 

In the moment of pause between sentences, you can allow yourself not to think, and if the gap becomes too long, you will notice that you can think, or you may not even think. This coming and going of thoughts is the most important thing to notice in the whole cycle of a person’s life. The sensations of thinking, of being able to think without losing self-awareness, are rare and noble moments. 

 

From the perspective of an ordinary mind, the silence between words seems almost nothing, nothing at all, something not even comprehensible. However, it is the fundamental moment of being, of the most important form of being, that which is in the background, the non-form that makes up most of ourselves. 

 

The field of awareness encompasses both words and, above all, silence, its meanings, and what emerges during silence, especially what arises from silence: sensory perception, stillness, grounding. 

 

All that matters here is to bring presence to the moments of silence, of apparent emptiness, that makes the words themselves possible. There is a special ability, the ability to stay alert outside the illusion of thought, outside the illusion that leads us to identify with the continuous flow of thoughts. 

 

Maintaining awareness even in moments of silence means gaining self-awareness, the knowledge of existing even without the need for tangible ‘things’, the knowledge of being, no matter what. 

 

Listening to and appreciating silence does not increase knowledge, but it does increase awareness. 

 

Furthermore, active listening knows how to appreciate pauses, silences, how to attribute meaning to them, how to value them, without treating them as ‘lost moments’ or wasted time. They become sacred moments, behind which the deepest meanings are hidden. 

In my coaching and counselling sessions I often invite clients to pause for a moment of silence before giving an answer to my question. And very often, this generates completely different, and deeper, responses than the immediate answer.  

Very often, precious nuggets are hidden behind a silence, and sometimes silence is the ingredient that brings them out. 

© Article translated from the book “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace“. copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available. If you are interested in publishing the book in any language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact Dr. Daniele Trevisani.

© Article translated from the book “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace“. copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available. If you are interested in publishing the book in any language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact Dr. Daniele Trevisani.

When listening, always assume that you will not understand everything perfectly

In this way, you will already know that the techniques of enhanced understanding that we are going to explain will be useful to you. 

Whatever we listen to, where there is a need for clarification, we can also ask for confirmation of what we have perceived, in order to be able to adjust it. In fact, we only have the possibility of making hypotheses about what we perceive, hypotheses that it is good to verify at least on the key elements, resorting to specific mechanisms: 

  1. Reformulation:I reformulate what I understood and let the interlocutor correct me on what diverges.
  2. Synthesis and recapitulation: Isummarisewhat I understood and ask if it is correct. 
  3. Reverberation or Echo: a broader reformulation taking in whole categories, among them: 
  4. i.Reverberation of data: make the sum of all the data heard, 
  5. Emotional reverberation: adding up all the emotions felt, and what they are associated  with,  

iii. Belief Map Reverberation or Belief System: add up all the perceived beliefs, which gives back the person’s “way of seeing things”.  

Eg: Here in this project we have the following actors: you, your father, the trainer, the course, the CEO, the CFO, the managers. You feel for each one that XYZ. To me, your thought seems to be XYX. Did I understand correctly? 

Among the data that we “hear”, there are also non-verbal expressions of self, clothing, a tattoo, haircut, type of shoes, and many other elements. Faced with these elements, the ‘categorisation’, the ‘stereotype’ and the summary and premature judgement may be triggered. I see a person with a floral shirt, shoes without laces, tattoos, I label him as an “alternative leftist” only to discover that he is a Management Consultant instead of the owner of a cannabis shop.  

 

“Happiness is an open mind. 

Be careful of your stereotypes and prejudices, they may trap you and make you miss out on what life has to offer.” 

Med Yones 

 

In listening, we need to give ourselves time to gather information, compare it with each other, and understand the bigger picture which is only buildable after listening to different aspects of the person, verbal, non-verbal, and unspoken, not just the “packaging of the person”. Listening to beliefs, listening to data, physical observation, observation of emotional states, when they converge, can give us a much broader picture of listening and perception. This is much more technical listening than empathic listening. Empathy consists of placing oneself in the other person’s state of mind to understand him or her. This multilevel listening, on the other hand, is a true mapping and dissection of the communication flow, where the validity and implications of each of the emerging elements are verified. The result can also be collected in a real database. 

© Article translated from the book “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace“. copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available. If you are interested in publishing the book in any language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact Dr. Daniele Trevisani.

© Article translated from the book “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace“. copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available. If you are interested in publishing the book in any language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact Dr. Daniele Trevisani.

Listening to Data, Listening to Emotions, Listening to Beliefs

Listening to people we don’t really like is one of the professional challenges we face they have to learn in many professions, such as lawyer, doctor, trainer, psychologist, but also manager and leader. It is neither mandatory nor possible to always have the ideal people in front of us. Learn to also listening to people who do not please us is something that must be learned, even if we want to limit the time and space of this contact.  

Empathy, or the art and science of understanding the moods of others, is not something that is due. Sympathy, or the liking of others, is not something due. Instead, we may experience the “need” to interact and listen to people who do not please us, and in this the advanced active listening mechanisms become a professional resource fundamental, and a life resource. Empathy, in psychology, includes identification with moods of another person, i.e. the ability to understand their thoughts and, above all, their emotions. It differs from sympathy for intention in wanting to understand the feelings experienced from another individual, not through a rational explanation, but through a sharing affective. In psychotherapy, the term refers to the therapist’s ability to think and feel himself in the inner life of the patient, to understand him in a deeper way 1. In a different way from what has already been explained, we can distinguish different levels of listening:  

  1. The non-listening, the unwillingness to listen, due to a precise decision (“I don’t want that to listen to him “) or the inability for reasons of our tiredness (” I was sotiredthatI could not hear “).  
  2. Listening in conditions of mutual appreciation, or sympathetic listening. 
  3. A listening aimed at understanding the person in depth, and above all the emotional states of her, o empathic listening. 
  4. Listening apathetic, passive, or even distorted, in cases where there is no listening but the person to listen to is unwelcome to the skin or for ideological and cultural reasons. 

 
Those who travel without meeting the other do not travel, they move.  

(Alexandra David-Néel)  

Human communication is an existential state, where people take action to try to step out of one’s sphere of limited energies and experiences and connect with other entities human.  

There are as many worlds as there are living people, for which to relate and practice listening it requires a great deal of humility and commitment. The positive message is that science, and a scientific approach, can help us a great deal in understanding the reasons for communication failures and the ingredients for increase the likelihood of communication successes. We are in a world where it is possible to create exceptional, epochal projects, and if we can do it converge our best energies, every advance in the future of humanity and the planet will be possible.  

Our “spheres”, who we are, how we think, how we are made, what and how we live, are living, plastic elements. Listening is very similar to “going to see” what is inside a sphere of others, and how  

this evolves. Listening can also do you good. There is a contagious aspect of affective conditions. Self we learn to listen with greater emotional closeness, we will probably become people best. And every better person infects the others around him, positively. The same happens in the negative when we meet people with weak and sick energies. Meet these too people, it’s a professional challenge.  

As Wallon 2 points out, “Kohler has noticed that a chimpanzee’s joyous excitement does it spread with the same gestures to all the other chimpanzees. The fear of a single ram changes in panic for the whole flock. The cry of a bird is reflected in a rising wave in the aviary”.  

We are in a human aviary, in a human herd of billions of elements housed on the surface of a small blue ball called Earth, scattered in space. For this reason, when we make an intervention aimed at improving listening in a single person, up to a company group or manager, we know that we are bringing humanity, competence and happiness to the system to the entire company and even to those who interact with it, from suppliers to customers. And having happy customers, or happy families, today, is a very serious desire and goal.  

There are many things in life that catch the eye, but only a few catch yours heart: follow those.  

(Winston Churchill)  

Listening can be examined with different zoom levels.  

As with a zoom we can first notice a forest, then zoom in on a single plant and notice the large number of leaves, then focus on a single leaf and notice the veins there flow, insects walking on it, and so on. The same is true in listening. We can examine it as a general phenomenon, see it from above, or enter with different degrees of detail. The degree of detail depends on how many variables we want to use to “examine” the listening and the communicative flow. Listening to multiple tracks requires commitment, requires listening quality, but we must be convinced that this commitment to listening will be rewarded by a quality of absolutely greater understanding.  

Quality is like a wave. That quality work that you thought no one would notice he is noticed, and whoever sees him feels a little better: he will probably transfer in the others this feeling of his and in this way the Quality will continue to spread.  

(Robert M. Pirsig)  

In the next step we will see a fairly simple model, with three main variables, listening to data, listening to emotions, listening to beliefs.  

© Article translated from the book “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace“. copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available. If you are interested in publishing the book in any language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact Dr. Daniele Trevisani.

© Article translated from the book “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace“. copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available. If you are interested in publishing the book in any language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact Dr. Daniele Trevisani.

Really important encounters are planned by the souls long before the bodies see each other. 

(Paulo Coelho) 

Cultural and professional backgrounds, combined with our personal history, our state of mind, our values, make us unique “systems”. 

Everyone is unique, a ‘sphere’ of meanings, energies, dreams, ambitions, tangible cells, and intangible thoughts. 

Listening means getting closer to that sphere. Deep listening means entering that sphere. 

The more you activate empathy, the more you enter the “core” of the person. 

Each person can be likened metaphorically to an energy field, a field of light, which at some time meets other energy fields, other fields of light, finding or not finding possibilities for exchange, osmosis, transmission of signals, or remaining distant, impermeable. 

 

“Eventually soulmates meet, for they have the same hiding place.” 

(Robert Brault) 

 

If I assume that we will magically understand each other, I will not be doing quality listening. Listening means being ready to approach worlds we do not know, and not just letting words in through our ears. 

We find ourselves in a world in which everyone is within their own ‘sphere’ – a set of thoughts, signals, words, values, – together referred to in the HPM method as the ‘Semiosphere’. Each of us lives in a ‘world’, in a sphere of words, concepts, ideologies and beliefs about the world and ourselves. Communication poses the challenge of passing messages between people from different backgrounds. Listening must always consider the possibility that the other person has a different culture from ours, even if it is only slightly different, which would imply the need to listen without preconceptions. Even the difference between a humanistic and a technical-engineering education can create a degree of incommunicability. Not understanding each other is more frequent than we think. 

 

Every day we go around in a crowd, we run here and there, we almost touch each other but, there is truly little contact. All those missed encounters. All those missed opportunities. It is disturbing when you think about it. Maybe it is better not to think about it at all. 

(Jonathan Coe) 

 

Every professional or family background offers you a world of words that you use daily, until those words become your world. This world becomes your daily sphere, your sphere of words, your sphere of relationships, your sphere of high or low, strong, or weak energies. 

At some moment, these spheres have occasion for contact, but the different backgrounds make understanding not automatic or obvious. 

When this moment of contact occurs, the two ‘spheres’ can repel each other ‘by the skin’, like two balls of equal magnetic charge repel each other.  

Attraction or repulsion occurs when archaic elements of the brain (archipallium) give us signals of displeasure or pleasantness, towards a face or smells that offer us signals of danger, or with signals that also come from body language, posture, smiles and facial expressions. If the signals are negative, they alert our alarm systems, they are certainly not conducive to listening, but if we know that they are being activated, we can go beyond those signals, listen, and perceive with greater awareness what is happening inside us. 

Listening to a person who disturbs us is something we avoid as much as possible and reduce to the bare minimum, and we notice this even between people who love each other but have had a fight. There is no less talking, there is less listening. 

Listening therefore means much more than hearing words, but observing movement, the body, gestures, facial expressions, objects, moods. 

Miraculously (but it is not a miracle, but the effect of well analysable human mechanisms) the opposite can also happen, a magnetic-like attraction, a human contact where we can find an understanding with someone, a way to share something between our spheres of meaning. And almost always, in this case, listening will become an extremely pleasant process. 

 

I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter. 

(Winston Churchill)

© Article translated from the book “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace“. copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available. If you are interested in publishing the book in any language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact Dr. Daniele Trevisani.

© Article translated from the book “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace“. copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available. If you are interested in publishing the book in any language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact Dr. Daniele Trevisani.

From vocal stress to quality of pronunciation, to confidence and trustworthiness, to gait. Listening to the ‘whole’ 

Auditory listening comes through the vibrations of the vocal cords creating sounds, which we recognise as words. 

When we are stressed, e.g., by telling a lie, or dealing with a subject that is overly sensitive to us, the body unconsciously activates the attack-escape system (sympathetic nervous system) – increasing the readiness of the muscles to spring into action. The vocal cords do not escape, and their vibration goes from a state of relaxation to a more tremulous voice (micro tremors) which corresponds to a voice under stress. 

This is to say that while we are listening, not only do ‘grammatical’ words come in, but my processing of what I hear takes place, and a form of judgement or evaluation is triggered, not only of the content (ethical or moral evaluation), but also of the speaker’s skills, or his state of stress. If an Italian person quotes a word in English, e.g., Bed & Breakfast, based on how well he pronounces even single words in English, I will understand how familiar he is with that language, how much he has studied it, and even whether he has lived there for a long time. This is augmented perception. Someone who talks about sales and uses the word Sales literally, verbatim – is telling us, unintentionally, that they have extremely poor English and probably do not have the awareness to make a big impression on someone who knows the language well. 

 

People observe the colors of a day only at its beginnings and ends, but to me it’s quite clear that a day merges through a multitude of shades and intonations with each passing moment. A single hour can consist of thousands of different colours. Waxy yellows, cloud-spot blues. Murky darkness. In my line of work, I make it a point to notice them. 

 (Markus Zusak) 

 

If while the person is speaking, we hear a vocal tremor, we are practicing advanced listening, listening to the components of vocal stress is an indicator of ongoing lies or emotional difficulties, we think the person is under stress.  

Not only that, but we also listen more than words if we phone a person in the morning, and we hear a low timbre of voice, so we go as far as to ask, “oh sorry, did you just wake up?” even if the person answering the phone does not mention it at all. We pick it up from the voice, from its qualities. Our mirror neurons allow us to identify and feel what we perceive. The thought of what might be happening takes shape in our mind, based on what might have happened to us on similar occasions. This is also an advanced and active listening dynamic. 

 

“The first step to understanding reality is to become aware of how it takes shape in our mind.”  

Stefano Nasetti 

 

But back to examples of content. If I talk about white fibres and red fibres (two different types of muscle fibres) 7, I assume that the other person understands me and has studied motor sciences or medicine or physiology. 

And not only that. The quality of the exposition will tell me a lot about his cultural status, and the calmness with which he expounds will help me to understand if it is the first time or one of the many he talks about, and therefore if he is an expert in the field or not (and this without the person having either said or officially announced it). 

And always looking at the ‘unspoken’, it is enough to see a person enter a bar or walk down the street and deduce from the type of walk, posture and body size and their proportions, a lot of data with respect to age, state of health, doing or not doing sports, and a lot of other information.  

© Article translated from the book “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace“. copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available. If you are interested in publishing the book in any language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact Dr. Daniele Trevisani.

© Article translated from the book “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace“. copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available. If you are interested in publishing the book in any language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact Dr. Daniele Trevisani.

A question of voice, words, and content 

During any human interaction, there are moments of rapprochement and estrangement between people. Listening, when well done, is certainly a moment of relational rapprochement. 

Words take on meaning only based on an agreement between the parties, otherwise they would just be empty sounds. The theory of the Coordinated Management of Meanings5 highlights precisely that the word with its set of shared meanings is the result of a work of coordination between the many possible meanings. For the listener, being reassured about the meaning of the primary words we are using is crucial. 

If an entire discourse, for example, revolves around the theme of Corporate Training, it is not a bad idea to actively ask “What is your conception of Corporate Training?” and compare it with your own. 

In this way we will know if there are any divergences of meaning (semantic divergences) that might hinder our understanding. 

 

To judge a man, one must at least know the secret of his thought, of his misfortunes, of his emotions. (Honoré de Balzac) 

 

There are distances, relational distances, no less important than physical distances. Listening is the most powerful mechanism we have for reducing relational distances between human beings. 

Incommunicability, on the other hand, is an enemy both of communication between people and of human mechanisms such as being friends, getting along, doing things together and having fun. It also affects relations in companies, between companies, between nations and even between whole cultures and global areas. 

I give a brief initial example of good listening skills, made, not by chance, by a friend who is also a psychotherapist and counsellor, to whom I tell by phone the joy of starting this book:  

  • Daniele “You know Lorenzo, it’s coming out really well, today I was in the library with all the windows open, crisp air, and I wrote really well, the book is starting to take shape, I can feel it flowing”. 
  • Lorenzo: “I’m glad to hear you are so lively”. 

As can be seen, the active listening of my colleague and friend Dr. Lorenzo Manfredini does not even concern himself with the content (he could have asked, for example, which chapter I was on), but “reflects” a very special kind of listening, that of my mood, perceived above all by the paralinguistic system (tone of voice, timbre, speed of speech, intonation), even more than by the words themselves (verbal component, the words I used). 

Intonation is one of the ‘prosodic elements’ of language. It  is composed of the tone and modulation of the voice during the articulation of a word or sentence. Prosody is the part of linguistics that studies the intonation, rhythm, duration, and accent of spoken language. Prosodic information, such as intonation, is full of meanings, for example, it tells us something about the health and fitness of the speaker, the energy in circulation, the mood. An example of augmented listening is listening to intonation: 

 

“The rising and falling tone or the use of a particular chant are ‘paralinguistic’ elements of communication, which add to the meaning conveyed by words. This level of communication can never be eliminated from vocal communication, not even from artificially produced communication, which in fact often appears mechanical to us precisely because of its ‘flat’ intonation. Paralinguistic communication mainly conveys information about the identity of the speaker (gender, geographical origin, etc.) and about the relationships that the sender intends to establish with the recipient (play, joke, command, question, etc.)”. 6   

 

And that is exactly what the friend did, connecting to the relationship of “sharing happiness” which was my primary communicative intent. 

Listening to the underlying communicative intent, and not just the words, is an example of listening beyond words, and augmented perception. 

This is to say that advanced active listening can enter our every moment, our every day, it requires skills, and it is not just about the words, but rather and above all about the communicative intent that a person expresses, usually doing so in a totally undeclared way. 

If we had been in a project in which this transmission of messages was connected to a deadline, the question could have been about what page I was on in relation to the deadline; the communicative intent could have been about a practical need to understand if we were late, and that would have been the appropriate question, but as this was not the case, a far superior, advanced, active listening competence emerged. 

 

“Speech belongs half to the speaker, half to the listener.”  

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne 

 

Whenever we listen deeply, in some way, we are connecting to the inner worlds of people, we are getting closer to the ‘core’ of the individual, to their ‘moods’, their personality, their history, and not just facts and figures. Then, and only then, can we begin to grasp its infinite nuances, and begin to understand it. 

© Article translated from the book “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace“. copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available. If you are interested in publishing the book in any language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact Dr. Daniele Trevisani.