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Listeningto Belief Systems

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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.

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.