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positive and destructive elements of empathy

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Copyright by Dr. Daniele Trevisani. Article extracted with author’s permission from the book “Ascolto attivo ed Empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace” (translated title: “Active Listening and Empathy: The Secretes of Effective Communication”. The book’s rights are on sale in any language. Please contact Dr. Daniele Trevisani for information at the website www.danieletrevisani.com

Positive and destructive elements of empathy 

…sometimes you talk to the world and the world doesn’t seem to hear… …. 

other times the world is talking to us and we are somewhere else. 

Daniele Trevisani 

 

Empathy is that state of “mental presence,” where “I am here, with you,” alongside a human being we want to fully understand.  

As such, it has a possibility of limited duration, that of an interview, but its effect can last forever, as with any memory or experience. Empathy is based on the fact of strongly wanting to be present, a mental presence that takes in every nuance and detail of what is said, of the nonverbal, of the paralinguistic, trying to understand its meaning, until you get to understand the “story” of a person and his “salient episodes, positive and negative”. It can also come to a total understanding of a person’s “state of mind,” beyond any verbal etiquette, beyond any possibility of expression. 

 

In the ALM (business development) and HPM (personal development) method, a special model of empathy is elaborated, with a typology initially exposed in the volume Intercultural Negotiation. 

Fig. 1 – Types of empathy based on observation angles 

  • Behavioral empathy: understanding behaviors and their causes, understanding the why of the behavior and the chains of related behaviors. 
  • Emotional empathy: being able to perceive the emotions experienced by others, understand what emotions the subject feels (what emotion is in the circle), of what intensity, what emotional mix the interlocutor lives, how emotions are associated with people, objects, facts, internal or external situations that the other lives. 
  • Relational empathy: understanding the map of the subject’s relationships and their affective values, understanding with whom the subject relates voluntarily or out of obligation, with whom he must relate in order to make decisions, work or live, what is his map of “significant others”, referents, interlocutors, “relevant others” and influencers that affect his decisions, with whom he gets along and who does not, who affects his professional (and in some cases personal) life. 
  • Cognitive empathy (or cognitive prototypes): understanding the cognitive prototypes active at a given moment in time, the beliefs, values, ideologies, and mental structures that the subject possesses and attaches to. 

It is astonishing how elements that seem insoluble become soluble when someone listens, how confusions that seem irremediable turn into relatively clear flowing streams when one is heard. 

Carl Rogers 

 

Empathy is either destroyed or fostered by specific communicative behaviours and attitudes. 

 

Fostering empathy  Destroying empathy 
Curiosity, passion, motivation to listen  Disinterest, listening for duty; lack of motivation 
Real listening participation, without fiction  Pretending a listening role only for professional duty 
Acting as a “discoverer”, like a truffle or gemstones hunter. Let’s see what’s going to happen today!  Bureaucratic plastered approach. Even today, not today, another meeting, that is so boring 
Re-formulation of contents 

Recap – re-capitulate “histories” and “topics” 

Judgement on contents, comments 

Endless flow without the security to understand the topic or the sense of the conversation 

Plural approaches to question (open, close, clarifying, focusing, and generalizing questions) 

Flexible questions related to the variation of a session or its context 

Monotonous questions, statical questions, questions that are too anchored to a dogmatic scheme or school 
Focus on emotional experience, emotional listening  Exclusive focus on facts 
Verbal or non-verbal signals of attention, “phatic” signals (contact signals) es, yeah, well, ok, I see your point…  Body language expressing disinterest, apathy, boredom, or desire to be somewhere else… 
Paralinguistic signals of attention, encouragement to express oneself, “phatic” signals (signals expressing participation and attention)  Poor evidence of interest and concern to the flow of thought. 

Lack or scarcity of ‘phatic’ signals and mental contact. 

 

“Empathy between people is like water in the desert: you rarely encounter it, but when you do, it calms you down and regenerates you.”  

 

Emanuela Breda 

© 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.