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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 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.