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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

We can enhance listening through models that help us to ask more correct and centred questions, both  

  1. in the way (listening mode) and  
  2. in content (content of the questions). 

If we centre both, we will have made a perfect centre. For this purpose we anticipate the model, central to this book, of the “scale of listening levels”, which concerns above all the “way” of listening. The scale is shown in the figure below. 

levels of listening quality scale

We will go into the details of this scale in the next chapter.  

For now, suffice it to say that the tools for making quality leaps in active listening do exist, and you can make huge strides, to the point of making it one of the strengths of your life and changing the way you are. 

Listening is part of communication, communication is part of people’s lives, and people’s lives are part of the universe.  

By listening, we are also making a contribution to understanding the part of the universe that lives in us. 

 

The effort to understand the universe is among the very few things that raise human life above the level of a farce,  

giving it some of the dignity of a tragedy. 

 (Steven Weinberg) 

 

Returning to the scale, as we can see, we start from the bottom, with imprecise, judgmental, aggressive listening, until we get to active, empathic, positive listening, going through intermediate traits. 

These are the modes of listening. If we apply these modes to a model, be it psychosocial or organisational, we obtain ‘modelled listening’. The model we focus on briefly now is the IkigaiIkigai (生き甲斐) is the Japanese equivalent of meanings such as ‘reason for living’, ‘raison d’être’, ‘purpose of life’. In Okinawa Ikigai is seen as “a reason to wake up in the morning”, and certainly, “what is your reason for waking up in the morning” is both a powerful question and a moment of powerful empathy and advanced active listening. 

Ikigai is a composite word, derived from Ikiru, meaning ‘to live’ and kai, meaning ‘shell’. Symbolically, it represents our space of expression, the place in space-time in which we feel ‘at home’, and our life mission.

ikigai model 

 “Everyone, according to Japanese culture, would have their own Ikigai. Finding the reason for one’s existence, however, requires an inner search that can often be long and difficult. This search is considered very important and its successful conclusion brings the person deep satisfaction.  

In addition to the positive aspects for those who follow their Ikigai, there can also be negative aspects: those who live life with extreme passion risk being consumed by it to the point of degradation”.  

The four main vectors or variables are 

  1. What you LOVE
  2. What the world NEEDS
  3. What you can be PAID FOR
  4. What you are GOOD AT.

From this come four major stimuli. 

Think about these four questions: 

  1. What do you like or love to do?
  2. What are you good at?
  3. What does the world need from you?
  4. For which of the things you can do can you be paid?

When we manage to find answers that satisfy all four propositions, we may say that we have found our Ikigai. Many studies have shown that Ikigai, or approaching this condition, prolongs and improves life17, so this concept has come to be the subject of high-level18 academic study. Ikigai represents the perfect centre, the condition that satisfies all other conditions, whereby we are able to do work that we love, work that is useful to the world, work that we are paid for, and work at which we are skilled. 

In psychology, this condition closely resembles a life or existence led in a state of Flow. 

, or Flow, “the magical moment when everything flows perfectly and time seems to vanish”, a concept introduced in 1975 by the psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi and then spread to various fields of application of psychology, including performance, sport, spirituality, education and work, the immersiveness of experience in everyday life, creativity, and meditation.  In moments of flow, everything seems to work magically and perfectly, even though the challenges are there and they are high. We can say that listening in a Flow state exists, and is made possible by our total “Mental Presence” in listening combined with the mental presence of the other and mutual availability. We notice how the imperfect intersections, those spaces where one or more of the four basic needs are not satisfied, generate different types of “state of life”, which can be examined in the figure itself. 

We will then have questions such as:  

 

What do you love to do in life? 

What do you think the planet and the world need right now? 

What are the jobs for which you can get paid? 

What are the things that make you feel good? 

 

Listening can become more and more complex, as in management coaching where we want to be able to understand what condition a person is in in relation to their work experience. So for example: 

 

  • Do you love what you are doing now? 
  • Do you think what you are doing now is useful? 
  • Are you satisfied with your remuneration? 
  • Do you get gratification at work, apart from remuneration? 
  • How do you live your working day? 
  • At which moments do you feel that you are giving your best at work with pleasure? 

We could ask many more questions, not an infinite number, but a very large number. The answers can allow us to make “hooks” on what emerges to deepen and widen the discourse, or instead we can go into detail with selective listening when we find a problem, or focus on an emotional detail of a conflict with a co-worker or a leadership problem, and apply empathic listening. In the beginning we need useful starting models to help us get off on the right foot, and then correct the course as we go along. 

Listening is one of the most sensitive human activities, using models certainly enhances it, but it never replaces the human sensitivity needed to practice quality listening. Capturing the nuances of people, whether at work or in life, requires an enormous empathic will, method and a pinch of artistry. People are universes, they are infinite worlds, looking into them can make you dizzy, but it is worth it. Because to know a person is to know a piece of the universe. 

 

It’s strange how your life can take a direction.  

Then you meet a person and everything changes. 

 Sophia Danko (Britt Robertson) 

from the movie “The answer is in the stars” by George Tillman Jr. 

 

© 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.

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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

Mental Presence: Knowing how to pick up signals, and what best coaches do

There is an urgent need to return to our ancestral sensibilities. We urgently need to restore our ability to increase our mental presence to perceive correctly, even before logically evaluating data alone. To do this, we must apply mental presence in conversations and know how to use listening in a special way, making it an “augmented perception” of any signal that enters our sphere:

  1. Verbal auditory signals. What did Tom just say at the other table?
  2. Paralinguistic auditory signals. Can I hear a person’s vocal stress?
  3. Tactile-tactile signals (did someone just sit in this chair? Is it warm?), or “what does this handshake tell me about you?
  4. Kinaesthetic-visual signals: how is the team today? Understand it in stride, in posture. Understand it even in the locker room. Do they seem calm or agitated? Demotivated or motivated?
  5. Olfactory Signals: What is this new smell I smell in my newly purchased car, have I ever paid attention to it? Am I aware that it is an engineered smell, or do I think it is a result of chance?
  6. Emotional Signals: how am I in the moment, how is my anxiety, my joy, my heart, my dreaming, my living in relationship with others and myself? E... How is the person in front of me? How is he/she breathing, what is he/she feeling?
  7. Body signs: what job might the second from the right on that table be doing, based on the type of muscles and how he is dressed and the marks I notice on his skin?
  8. Holistic signals: who is the most dangerous or dissonant person in this train car or bar, is there someone who might be dangerous? Based on what do I notice?

The signals are many. Signs of love, signs of hate, signs of indifference, signs of fear, signs of disgust, signs of friendship. If only we knew how to catch them all….

But as soon as we realize that the discourse does not touch our vital interests, we turn around and continue in our distracted way.

Distraction is an evil of the age.

The “rage of the times” and the rush have brought listening to absolute lows in the history of Western civilization.

Smartphones and other electronic devices have replaced people, and so we have become good at “listening” to the signals of electronic devices, recognizing a beep from a different beep, manipulating a phone or a touchscreen, but less good at looking into the eyes of a person who is speaking to us live and grasping their nuances, micro expressions, tone of voice, gaze, head nods, and understanding what they are feeling, and whether or not they are lying.

Throughout the book there will be dozens and dozens of useful tools to re-learn the art and technique of “reading people” – which means practicing a “listening beyond words”. The important thing is that the spark is ignited in us. The spark of ancestral DNA. The spark of curiosity.

The fury of the times has accustomed students to quizzes, multiple-choice tests, computerized exams, and the oral exam is slowly disappearing from the landscape of academic training because it “takes too long”. Thus, we no longer learn to “tune in to the Professor and his interests that we may have heard in class,” because it has become unnecessary.

Even in groups of boys and girls, sitting at a table in a restaurant, one can notice a constant “doing” but with one’s smartphone, and an almost physical absence of where people really are, with rare, very rare conversations between participants, often superficial.

It’s never easy to listen. Sometimes it’s more comfortable to act deaf, turn on the Walkman, and isolate yourself from everyone. It is so easy to replace listening with emails, texts and chats, and in this way we deprive ourselves of faces, glances and hugs.

(Pope Francis)

______

© 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.

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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

Knowing how to ‘read’ people. A return to our ancestral sensibilities

In our DNA there is an inherent part of us that is interested in what others say, how they look, how they move, even how they smell.

There are several reasons for that. One is human curiosity, the other is connected to personal interest and self-preservation.

One of our main ancestral preoccupations is to understand whether or not a person is dangerous to us, based on the communication signals we receive. Another very concrete preoccupation of a more everyday nature is to understand whether or not a person is credible, whether or not we can give them credit, based on how he/she communicates, the communication channels he/she uses, the signs and signals he/she emits[1].

Knowing how to read a person in an instant, means grasping what – in that ‘frame’ of time, a second, or a few minutes – the person is ’emitting’ about him/herself. And so we will be able to capture words, but also and above all emotional states, states of mind, by reading faces, reading the body, listening to the paralinguistic messages, the timbre, the vocality, even before the words.

Even from a photo you can tell something. You can also ‘listen’ to a photo, yes. Or a painting, or a piece of music, or a landscape, or a car..

Of a person, at work, we might trust what is written on his or her business card, but we insist on looking also at his or her posture, straight or curved back, chin, shoulders, and sad or proud eyes, to understand if he or she is proud of that card is handing to you, or if it is a burden for him or her.

Let’s even say that we are curious by nature, because survival requires knowing things, understanding who is hostile or friendly, and knowing how to do it in a fraction of a second, like the real hunters/gatherers we were, by looking, observing eyes, movements, intentions.

Instinctively smelling situations comes before ‘understanding them rationally’.

This is part of that Unconscious Intelligence, a form of intelligence that in this book we are adding to the many Multiple Intelligences we have, mental and bodily resources so well exposed by Howard Gardner[2].

Freud has already spoken of unconscious intelligence (calling it ‘Unbewussten Verständnis‘, or ‘unconscious understanding’), but without highlighting it as a resource available to all of us, and the philosopher Schelling (1775-1854) speaks of it even earlier,[3] identifying it as an ‘intelligence of nature’, but once again without considering it for what it may be, our most precious resource. But we want to do it.

Gardner showed how the phenomenon of ‘intelligence’ can be broken down into a varied series of distinct human abilities, therefore of different intelligences: linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinaesthetic, personal and interpersonal[4], adding later, the intra-personal level of intelligence, related to knowing oneself.

Close to Inter-personal Intelligence, we add in this volume the category of Unconscious Intelligence, which we consider here as a real skill, a trainable competence for active listening, deriving from a stronger connection and training in the dialogue between the Neocortex (a recent part of the brain development), and other ancient areas such as the reptilian brain and the pre-mammalian brain, areas very able to pick up subtle and instinctive information.

And here we are: on the animal side of man, on his ‘reading the gaze’, on his ‘listening also to the unspoken’.

Knowing how to read people, their purposes, requires a return to ancestral skills, when attraction was signalled with eyes to other eyes, and not with a social profile. Now, more than ever, it is time to learn how to read people again. Because, on the one hand, we are losing the ability to recognise ‘bad guys’ or enemies, and on the other hand, we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater and perhaps we say NO to someone who can do us no harm and may even bring us value.

Coaching listening skills becomes of the highest value, since it trains people in “perceiving more” and this can bring an extra-value to any situation, including:

  • Negotiations
  • Dating
  • Parenting
  • Friendship
  • Business
  • Social life
  • Sports
  • Performance

… and any other field of life.

[1] Weigold, Michael & Trevisani, Daniele (1993). Mass Media, image and persuasion: The indirect effect of communication channels on source credibility and message acceptance. Paper presented at the Annual meeting of the Association For Education In Journalism And Mass Communication, Kansas City, MO, USA, (1993, August).

[2] Howard Gardner (1983), Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Edition Hachette UK, 2011.

[3] Friedrich Schelling, Vom Ich als Prinzip der Philosophie oder über das Unbedingte im menschlichen Wissen (The self as the principle of Philosophy or the foundation of human knowledge), 1795

Friedrich Schelling, Ideen zu einer Philosophie der Natur (Ideas for a philosophy of nature), 1797

[4] Howard Gardner (2010), Formae mentis. Saggio sulla pluralità dell’intelligenza. Feltrinelli, Milano.

____

© 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.

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