Active listening and empathy are not to be confused with acceptance of other people’s content

Article translated by dott. Federica Franca, CIELS Advanced Degree in Strategic Communication (“Laurea Magistrale in Comunicazione Strategica”), extracted with the author’s permission from the book “Intercultural Negotiation. Communication Beyond Cultural Barriers” (original title: “Negoziazione interculturale. Comunicare oltre le barriere culturali. Dalle relazioni interne sino alle trattative internazionali”), written by Daniele Trevisani, published by Franco Angeli, Milan.

Active listening rules are not rules of content acceptance, rather methods that encourage the person we are talking with to let their thoughts flow as freely as possible.

Judging what is being said – an inevitable fact during the negotiation – must not interfere with the listening phase and should be “relegated” to further phases of the negotiation. Only after having listened carefully – and within an appropriate negotiation frame –, corrections or clarifications can be made.

The aim of empathic techniques is to facilitate the other person’s flow of thoughts and to collect as much information as possible. When properly used, empathy produces an “empathic flow”, i.e. a flow of data or factual, sentimental and experiential information that is very useful to the negotiator.

The opposite behaviour (judging, correcting, affirming, blocking) breaks the empathic flow and could prematurely stop the collection of valuable information. Even though sometimes the negotiator has to stop that flow (“turning point”), it is usually better to let the person talk, in order to understand whom the negotiator is dealing with and what the real goals and all other necessary pieces of information are.

Besides, empathic techniques are helpful in curbing the premature tendency towards informational self-disclosure (giving information, leaking data inappropriately or prematurely).

Providing people with information and data – that could be counterproductive and cause a boomerang effect on the negotiator – must be done with extreme caution.

The empathic attitude is extremely useful to focus the negotiator’s mental energies on listening to the other person and curbing inappropriate disclosures.

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-Dott. Trevisani D., Negoziazione interculturale. Comunicare oltre le barriere culturali. Dalle relazioni interne sino alle trattative internazionali , Franco Angeli, Milano.

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