Category

News

Category

© 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 while having prejudices is a wrong starting point. I call this “filtered listening” and it is normal, even natural. It happens every day. We judge any news that we hear based on our values and that’s even right. 

If we want to practice an active listening, thinking that the person we are listening to has exactly our value filters and mind maps is wrong. We must not take his/her answers for granted, and we must not get irritated when those answers are not what we expected or what we wanted them to be. They are not the answers we would have given. Active listening must always be neutral. 

In the flow of communication, we can hear something that will inevitably go against some of our opinions, values and more solid principles. 

As soon as this “against” data emerges, there’s the risk of becoming rigid and we may stop listening. On the other hand, it is essential for an advanced listener to know how to “suspend judgment” while listening to the entire communication flow, by postponing the “judgment phase” until it is time to do so. 

Every powerful question is like a goal hitting into the other party’s mind: if it gets blocked or doesn’t work, we might get angry. Let’s listen to our emotions without getting affected by them. Let’s move on: nobody is perfect but everyone can improve, even in listening. 

Listening in the Cloud 

Participating in listening means suspending our mental rumination and practicing mindfulness, bringing our mind “there” to listening. It means just listening while turning off all other thoughts. 

Listening “in the Cloud” is a type of listening practiced while our mind gets lost in thought, losing the focus. 

It basically consists in letting the words heard rumble in your head. It is normal that, while we listen, thoughts, memories, reflections come up. Equally normal is that internal reverberations can be created due to what we hear and other thoughts. 

All these thoughts can form a “cloud of thoughts” that completely absorbs our attention. In this way, our attention becomes self-centred – directed only towards ourselves – and we stop listening, even if the other “emits” words, these do not enter in our mind, becoming pure background noise. 

This “listening in the Cloud” can and must be interrupted by: 

  • moments of brief reformulation (so you were in Rome, right?), 
  • questions (in which area of Rome?), 
  • moments of recapitulation (If I understand correctly the story went like this …) 
  • non-verbal head movements (e.g., when we understand a concept we can say yes with the head, which does not mean that we agree but only that we have understood what our interlocutor is saying) 
  • short paraverbal punctuation (e.g., ah, uhm, ok) – paralinguistic messages serve as punctuation. 

The absence of background noises or distractors such as televisions, telephones, chats, and other disturbing elements, is fundamental. It is also possible to openly say: “I’m getting lost, you talked about David, and then what?” 

We can say without a doubt that at the basis of a communication/listening in the cloud there are chaos, mental disorder, an entropy state (degradation of a system towards chaos) where we are not able to understand each other. 

On the contrary, an active listening can produce a greater information order, it can pull out information, data, signals, emotions, and give them an order to create meaning. Not a small job. 

Empathic listening, by nature, is a process against chaos, entropy and the confusion of signals and meanings. 

 

© 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.

A telephone does not only emit radiation, but also information about its owner. Only yesterday, near an ice-cream parlour, I found an abandoned phone. It took only 50 cents of a second, an instantaneous perception, to realise that it belonged to a little girl, based on the pink butterfly sticker, the writing on the cover, and other small details, without even opening it. 

I took it to the ice-cream parlour, saying that a little girl had probably forgotten it and would come looking for it. Chance of error? Less than 1%.  

People use, in other words, a system of holistic communication and holistic listening, they judge and reconstruct based on a few ‘trigger’ signals, and the probability of a perception close to reality is quite high. Especially if we know the ‘sign system’ or semiotic environment in which we are moving. 

Understanding and governing this system of signs, when we emit them, and when we listen to them, is a fundamental component of advanced listening and perception. 

 

Holistic communication and holistic listening 

 

Holistic communication answers many more questions than ‘what do I say with my voice’. 

The people they are in contact with extract meanings from the most disparate elements, such as: 

  • what music you listen to, 
  • how congruent your favourite music genre is with the identities that others perceive of you, 
  • your general appearance, 
  • your haircut and its care (shades, gels, hair accessories), 
  • tattoos, their size, type, symbolism, 
  • tone of voice, 
  •  vocal stress, 
  • clothing, e.g. the degree of ‘casual’ vs ‘professional’, 
  • adherence or non-adherence to the ‘dress code’ that the social situation would like to impose (e.g. not wearing a tie in a formal interview is a form of ‘independence’ message), 
  • the body, muscular tones, body shapes, postures, 
  • what ‘your environments’ communicate, what is on the wall, how your home is furnished. The communication of environments, like any other form of holistic communication, becomes an ’emanation of the Self’, 
  • the watch you have, its type, “adventure” watch filled with features, barometer, altimeter, depth gauge, compass, etc., vs. classic watch with hands. Plastic, gold or steel? 
  • the glasses, their shape and brand, the fact that they are – by shape and frame – “tactical” or “understated”? Indicators of ‘understatement’ (wanting to be noticed little) or ‘overstatement’ (wanting to be noticed for an object)? 
  • what films you watch, what programmes you prefer, what social media you use, how you appear on your social profiles if someone who does not know you or someone who does know you observes you, 
  • the “informational mental infiltrations” or “memetic infiltrations” that we possess, e.g. knowing a piece of news that occupies our mental ram without having intentionally learned it, knowing that “George Clooney slipped on a motorbike in Sardinia but was not hurt” without ever having gone looking for that news (tells us that you have frequented public environments, such as a bar), 
  • the strength and conviction with which you express a message, 
  • your skin, its condition, the marks it has and doesn’t have, the degree of care, the ‘word of the body’. 
  • The ‘names’ you give to things or animals or objects, dense with connotative meanings that reverberate your way of being and your personality and apply it to the objects, animals and things around you. 

 

Holistic communication therefore includes listening to ourselves, and leads us to an increased awareness of the enormous variety of means, channels and tools that emit messages. 

It serves us to be more aware of all the tools we have and sometimes do not use, or the sources from which perception comes, listening to others, and to the things that tell the story of who we are. 

© 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.

Active listening is linked to paralinguistic and non-verbal communication and it includes: 

  • verbal active listening techniques; 
  • paralinguistic active listening techniques; 
  • non-verbal active listening techniques. 

These techniques will be examined in the following paragraphs. 

Let’s underline now an essential aspect of empathy: 

  1. the person who is talking must be aware that they will not be judged. They also should not be ashamed of what they are feeling or saying, no matter how odd or serious things are – from their point of view; empathy is a special area in the space-time continuum – a person can say everything they want, without facing any negative consequences; 
  1. the person who is talking must be aware that they can start making some progress and moving forward only when they have accepted themselves as they are, not matter what they did or what they thought, whether they like it or not. 

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am,  

then I can change”. 

Carl Rogers 

Verbal active listening techniques 

Verbal listening techniques focus on the use of all those words that express attention and willingness to understand. 

  • Open questionswho, where, when, how, why, with whom, how long and other questions that broaden and clarify the conversation. 
  • Closed or clarifying questions: they verify parts of the speech through “yes–no questions”, or other general answers (“a lot/a little”, “before/after”). “It happened just before meeting Angela” “How long before it happened? One hour? One day?” or “Are you happy with your car?” 
  • Mirror technique (reflection of content): repetition of sentences – or parts of sentences – the speaker said, without modifying or altering them. The mirror technique comes from the empathic listening methodologies used in the Rogerian4 therapeutic interview. It is a psychotherapeutic technique that allows the speakers to deepen their thoughts – and to express themselves. “So, you are telling me that…” 
  • Paraphrase: use of “as if”. Trying to understand what has been said by using metaphors or examples that are useful to figure out whether we really understood the deep meaning of what the other person is saying. “You are telling me that it seems like they poured water into your jug without realising it was already full, am I right?” 
  • Factual and historical overview, summary: repetition of what has been said by summarising the main points of the “story”. “If I got that right, what happened could be summed up by saying that…” 
  • Verbal encouragement: e.g. “good”, “interesting”, “yes”, “okay”. 

© 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.

HANA BUI 15 MAY 2020 (in the Myanmar Times)

A survey from 68 countries indicated that 90 percent of senior executives see “cross-cultural leadership” as the biggest management challenge of this century, according The Economist. Up to 40 percent of managers sent on overseas assignments terminate early. The cost to employers of each early return is between US$250,000 – $1,250,000. In most cases, the reason is cultural issues rather than professional or technical skills.

Expats in Myanmar are not exceptions. Even the cultural challenge they face here is tougher, since Myanmar opened its economy to the world less than ten years ago, as one of the last frontier markets in the world. Like it or not, Myanmar was in isolation from the outside world for over five decades. Thus, expats working in the enchanting Myanmar have often found lots of setbacks – oddities, quirks, idiosyncrasies due to cultural differences. These cultural differences can create a dreadful barrier to communication between expats and Myanmar people, affecting expats’ ability to build connections, motivate and collaborate with local people. “What is different is dangerous”, Geert Hofstede – the leading scholar in intercultural theories states.

Dr. Geert Hofstede,a psychologist, published his “cultural dimensions” model more than forty years ago, based on a decade of research. The model has become an international standard for understanding cultural differences. He identifies six cultural dimensions that help distinguish cultures from each other, in terms of the attitudes and relationships. These dimensions can be measured, and are identified as: Power Distance, Masculinity, Uncertainty Avoidance, Long-term Orientation, and Restraint. This article will focus on the dimension of Power Distance, an important orientation to understand in the Myanmar workplace.

Power Distance – The East vs the West

Power Distance refers to the extent to which the less powerful members of organisations and institutions accepts and expects that power is distributed unequally. Power distance describes how people belonging to a specific culture view power relationships between people– superior/subordinate relations. The Power Distance Index (PDI) measures the degree to which the members of a group or society accept the hierarchy of power and authority. PDI has had a substantial influence in intercultural training.

A society with a high PDI score indicates that it accepts an unequal, hierarchical distribution of power, and that people understand “their place” in the system. On the contrary, a society with a low PDI score means that power is shared and is widely dispersed, and that society’s members do not easily accept unequal distributions of power.

For example, Asian countries normally have high PDI score, while lots of Western countries have a low PDI score. According to Hosftede’s Insights, the PDI score of China is 80 out of 100, Singapore is 74, Thailand 64, while the PDI score of America is 40, Germany at 35, The Netherlands at 38. In America an individual can criticise the president and his/her party publicly, but an individual would face a tough situation or even danger if they publicly criticised the president and government of China, for example.

Hofstede’s Power Distance Index map. The lighter green countries are generally more egalitarian, and darker green ones showing a higher degree of power distance.

How power distance can cause problems

Intercultural differences between makers of airplanes Boeing and Airbus (from small power distance countries) and pilots from South Korea (a large power distance country) caused a major accident in the late 1990s.

Airbus and Boeing produced planes which are supposed to be flown by 2 pilots without a significant power distance between them. Being on equal-par, in terms of status and power, one pilot is supposed to correct the other when necessary. With pilots having a large power distance between them, the airline increases the risk of accidents given that the co-pilot is less likely to correct the more senior colleague.

Indeed, ignorance of the power distance in the workplace would lead to dreadful consequences – for example, Korean Air flight 801’s missed approach to Antonio B Won Pat International Airport in Guam on August 6 1997, killing 229 people on board.

Myanmar Survival Rule # 1 –Hierarchy

Whether it’s at a monastery, in the classroom or at home, Myanmar is a high power distance culture. Myanmar is a hierarchical country as opposed to egalitarian Western countries. Though other religions make use of hierarchy, Myanmar Buddhism encourages people to submit to five most important entities in society: Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha (Community), Parents, and Teachers. “Don’t disrespect the Buddha” is a vital law. There is the body hierarchy too, meaning that the head is the purest part and the feet the dirtiest. Hence why people take their shoes off inside the pagoda and house, and never touch someone on their head.

High power distance is also reflected in the work place, especially in local companies or businesses. The organisations are centralised with the business owner making decisions without real delegation to subordinates. The organisational structures reflect complex hierarchies. We would also see autocratic leadership, paternalistic management style, many levels of management and large numbers of supervisory staff. Subordinates expect to be told what to do, and how to do it. In Myanmar, there is also a special respect for elders and seniors.

These values can often conflict with those in international organisations, which may have a structure. In some places, supervisors and employees are considered almost as equals and the manager may even converse with the cleaning staff. The authority at these multinational companies may be decentralised, so decision making is delegated as much as possible. There is a participative management style and a smaller proportion of supervisory staff. Thus hierarchy plays a role in many conflicts between Myanmar businesses hiring overseas managers and workers, and international companies working with Myanmar staff.

What does it mean to expats working in Myanmar?

If expats work with local business partners, or for a local organisation, it is good to acknowledge a leader’s status. Whatever you do, don’t push back explicitly. The owner normally makes all decisions – so beware. There may not be real delegation so you may need to go to the top of the organisation if you want answers.

When expat managers lead a team in an international company, be aware that many Myanmar people are used to the high power distance culture, so they may expect you to make decisions, or expect you tell them what to do. You need to provide detailed instructions, and follow-up closely. “Be less demanding, and provide more coaching” is a good mindset to have.

In many meetings, expats would feel frustrated because local colleagues do not speak up, raise opinions – preferring to keep quiet or agree with whatever their manager/supervisor says. This is because of the power distance orientation in the culture. At Myanmar universities, lecturers are also the ones to provide all knowledge about particular subjects. Students are seldom expected to question this.

Elders and seniors are highly regarded in Myanmar society. In a meeting in an organization, younger people infrequently express opposing ideas to their managers. It would be considered inappropriate. As such, a younger manager may face some difficulties managing her older subordinates.

Many foreigners say they do not understand why there is such respect given to elder colleagues, without any particular reason. There is indeed a reason – age links to wisdom and knowledge. As a local proverb puts it: “The older the person, the wiser his brain” (Shar bin o-lay a-hnit pyit-lay).

Understanding the social custom of paying respect to seniors is essential for people in an organisation in Myanmar. For example, a junior does not dare to “ask back” when in the boardroom. That would be considered challenging a senior, which violates the hierarchal relationship. In fact, a very habitual behavior of local colleagues in Myanmar is to hesitate when responding to an expat supervisor. Even if they do not understand what is being said, it would violate the hierarchy of respect for them to seek clarification and understanding by questioning the person.

It is not an issue that can be solved easily and quickly. Basically expats should create an environment that their local colleagues feel “safe” to speak out. They know and may experience that even their ideas are different from their expat supervisors, and areappreciated. In the long run, it requires that they have the ultimate “trust” on the expats so that the local colleagues can dare to raise their voice. Stephen Covey, author of The Speed of Trust, writes “Trust is the glue of life. It is the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It is the foundation principle that holds all relationships.”

Many Myanmar people may find expats interesting too, because of the differences in cultures. They may desire to break out of their cultural conditioning, but to even attempt this requires building trust.

Hana Bui is an intercultural trainer and best-selling author with the book “When Global Meets Local – How Expatriates Can Succeed in Myanmar”. It is the first-time popular guidebook for expats on how to work well with local colleagues. Hana can be contacted at hana@interculturemyanmar.com