Empathy and Active Listening (part 1)

© Article translated from the book “Parliamoci Chiaro: il modello delle quattro distanze per una comunicazione efficace e costruttiva” (Let’s Speak Clearly: the four distances model for an effective and constructive communication) copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Communication Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available for any Publisher wishing to consider it for publication in English and other languages except for Italian, whose rights are already sold and published. If you are interested in publishing the book in English, or any other language, or seek Communication Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact the author from the website www.danieletrevisani.com 

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Today we are going to introduce the concepts of empathy and active listening, fundamental elements of effective and authentic communication.

Listening well means paying attention to what the other person is saying, sometimes rephrasing the most important points of the conversation, so as to be sure you understood correctly. While listening we must also apply empathy, which means we have to try to understand our interlocutor without judging him/her prematurely and to put ourselves in his/her shoes.

Listening badly or in a confused way can cause quarrels and conflicts, because we would react based on something we couldn’t understand or that we could only partially understood.

In addition to that, when talking about “relational distances”, we must remember that we can create or remove distance both during the emission phase (when we are sending a message) and the listening phase.

Some listening techniques here become fundamental:

  • Reflecting: acting as a mirror, reformulating what has been understood. This technique allows you to open the conversation to new content.
  • Deflecting: recognizing topics that are not relevant in the conversation, while being able to expel them from it.
  • Probing: testing information with a related question. For example, you can say ” Based on what you told me, I understand that you don’t like him: is that correct?”.
  • Recap: summarize and relaunch. Make some recapitulations of all information that has been collected so far and get the conversation going with new content.
  • Contact: use non-verbal languages constantly, such as eye contact, nods, guttural and paralinguistic expressions or phatic signals (signals used to express that you are following your interlocutor, like “ok”, “understood”, “ready”, etc.).

Imagining two people expressing themselves well but incapable of listening, it’s like observing someone who tries to pour water, pure and clear, into a sealed vessel.

But what are the different types of listening we can use to improve communication?

Here below you can find a scale of listening types. The lower positions give rise to large communicative distances, while as you go up, the distances are reduced.

Screened / Distorted / Inaccurate Listening

It is a very bad listening, performed with disinterest or in a state of fatigue. There is no real willingness to listen, and the person would like to get out of the conversation as soon as possible. It produces great relational distance between people.

Judging / Aggressive Listening

It is a type of listening very often used, where one listens only partly to what the other is saying and it does so only with the aim of judging or to take his/her turn as soon as possible. He/she always tries to speak, often attacking, without actually understanding what the other person said.

Apathetic / Passive Listening

It is a type of listening that does not judge but does not even appreciate. The person seems mummified and does not give any signals. It can sometimes create distances, but it certainly won’t bring people closer. The passivity comes from the lack of use of non-verbal communication,

Listening from Time to Time

It is a very common attitude, probably the most common. At times we are there, then we are distracted by something else, like a phone call or a message, and then we go back to listening, and so on. It is a type of listening that creates distances.

Selective Listening

Selective listening is used to discover precise information on a certain topic. As such, it can be considered an “approaching” listening only if the topic is of personal interest; otherwise it resembles too much an interrogation: a conversational format that does not bring people closer.

Active / Supportive Listening

Active listening is accompanied by precise verbal formulas, such as recaps, reformulations of short sections of the conversation, attentive and participatory non-verbal languages. this is a type of listening that can reduce distances.

Empathic Listening

Empathic listening possesses both the characteristics of active listening and the attitude of wanting to deeply understand the interlocutor’s emotional experience. It is therefore a listening format that brings people closer.

Sympathetic Listening

When you use a sympathetic listening, you show sympathy and human warmth towards the person you are listening to. It is not an empathic listening, since it can also contain interruptions and sentences where one talks about himself/herself, but it is a formula that brings people closer, especially when carried out with sincerity.

To be continued…

"Let's Speak Clearly" by Daniele Trevisani

© Article translated from the book “Parliamoci Chiaro: il modello delle quattro distanze per una comunicazione efficace e costruttiva” (Let’s Speak Clearly: the four distances model for an effective and constructive communication) copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Communication Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available for any Publisher wishing to consider it for publication in English and other languages except for Italian, whose rights are already sold and published. If you are interested in publishing the book in English, or any other language, or seek Communication Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact the author from the website www.danieletrevisani.com 

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For further information see:

Non-Verbal Intercultural Communication (part 2)

© Article translated from the book “Negoziazione interculturale, comunicazione oltre le barriere culturali” (Intercultural Negotiation: Communication Beyond Cultural Barriers) 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 for any Publisher wishing to consider it for publication in English and other languages except for Italian and Arab whose rights are already sold and published. If you are interested in publishing the book in English, or any other language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact the author from the webstite www.danieletrevisani.com 

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In this second part I would like to continue talking about non-verbal communication and its characteristics, this time focusing on training, sensory perception, personal look and colour, while explaining the importance of identifying assonances and dissonances between verbal and non-verbal language.

Training

Training on the use of paralinguistic elements means learning the strategic use of pauses and tones. It includes many repertoires of theatrical and actor techniques, such as the Stanislavskij method, probably the only one truly capable of transforming expressive behaviours.

Without adequate preparation the chances of being competitive on the negotiating level decrease. As the gap between our training level and the training level of the counterpart increases, the risk of an unfavourable outcome during a negotiation grows.

Sensory Perceptions

Some clichés spreading in multicultural college campuses are that whites “taste like chicken”, Asians “smell of garlic”, blacks “taste of sweat”, etc.

The olfactory differences on an ethnic and genetic level do exist, but the perceived smell is largely determined by cultural factors such as nutrition, cleanliness or the use of perfumes.

Personal olfactory emissions are a communication tool.

It is certain that the sense of smell affects perception, and that food produces essences that exude from the skin and breath. If we want to manage even the smallest details of intercultural negotiation and, more generally, of the human contact, we must take care of these aspects.

Anything that can be attributed to the subject or to the corporate environment affects perception and image. Some clothing chains have resorted to the targeted deodorization of shops to create a more relaxed and pleasant atmosphere (environmental olfactory marketing).

Smell is a remote sense of the human being, partially abandoned in favour of senses such as sight and hearing. Animal “noses” are able to pick up smells that signal sexual emotions or predispositions, while human noses seem to have lost this trait.

There are practical implications for conscious personal deodorization: avoid foods that can produce strong breath emissions, avoid excessive personal fragrances, be aware of personal odours (e.g. sweat) and consider the importance of olfactory environmental marketing.

Personal Look

We usually know nothing about people’s real history. We can only assume it by looking at the symbols they decide to show us. There are signs/symbols everywhere: on the interlocutor and in his/her communicative space. Symbolic communication concerns the meanings that people associate to and perceive from those particular “signs”. By communicative space we mean any area linked to the subject’s “system”, such as his/her car, or the background of his/her computer, and any other sign from which we derive information, meanings and interpretations.

From a semiotic point of view, every element from which a subject draws meaning becomes a “sign”, whether the bearer is aware of it or not.

Look, clothing and accessories are among the most incisive factors that build one’s personal image.

Differences or similarities in clothing, for example, can put a person inside a professional ingroup (“one like us”, an “equal”) or an outgroup (“one different from us”), depending of the meaning that the word “us” has for the interlocutor.

In a widened signification system, the symbols associated to the brands used, the type of car, and even the office furniture, can become very important.

chronemic behaviours (the string of actions over time) are also broadened signals related to how frequently we change clothes, punctuality, way of driving (calm or nervous), way of eating (slow and relaxed vs. fast and voracious), etc.

Even considering the time a person takes in answering a question can be significant: slow or overly thoughtful responses can be interpreted as insincere in Western cultures or wise in Eastern cultures.

It can be said that in the field of intercultural communication nothing escapes the observation of the interlocutor, and every “sign” contributes to its classification and evaluation.

Colours

An additional element of symbolic communication is colour. The use of colours and the symbolisms associated with colours also vary according to cultures.

It is not possible to list all possible associations for every colour in each country, but I would like to underline the importance of paying attention to the symbolisms associated with colours, because there are many problems that could arise when choosing colours and graphics, for example in packaging, in business gifts and in objects.

Even objects and symbols are not neutral: an Italian company, for example, used the symbol of an open hand to create the company logo and key rings, producing a wave of protests in Greece, where the open hand symbol is used to offend.

The basic principle to avoid macroscopic errors is the use of pre-tests: a “pilot test” on some member of the local culture, who are able to give a feedback on the appropriateness of colours, shapes and symbolisms within their cultural context.

The pre-test method also applies to the choice of gifts, presents, and any other symbolic action whose impact may vary on a cultural basis.

Consonances and Dissonances between Verbal and Non-Verbal Language

Non-verbal communication can reinforce the verbal message or be dissonant with it.

Listening carefully and nodding can express interest more than just a verbal statement. Saying “I’m interested” with words and expressing boredom or disgust with body actions produces a dissonant signal and creates suspicion or irritation.

The coherence (matching) between words and actions:

  • increases the subject’s perceived honesty;
  • denotes trustworthiness;
  • shows interest;
  • shows that we are in control of the situation;
  • produces a sense of security and solidity of content.

On the contrary, the incongruity:

  • creates a sense of mistrust;
  • generates a feeling of lack of authenticity;
  • produces doubts and suspicions, because the heard verbal content is considered false.

Each linguistic style (on an interpersonal level) is associated with a precise modulation of the non-verbal style. We can indeed have:

  • situations of communicative reinforcement (the non-verbal style reinforces the verbal style);
  • situations of dissonance or inconsistency between verbal and non-verbal communication: the non-verbal language is on a different register than the verbal one.

The dissonances concern every semiotic system, every sign that carries a meaning. A company that declares itself important and does not have a website, or has an amateur website, expresses an incongruent image of itself.

"Intercultural Negotiation" by Daniele Trevisani

© Article translated from the book “Negoziazione interculturale, comunicazione oltre le barriere culturali” (Intercultural Negotiation: Communication Beyond Cultural Barriers) 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 for any Publisher wishing to consider it for publication in English and other languages except for Italian and Arab whose rights are already sold and published. If you are interested in publishing the book in English, or any other language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact the author from the webstite www.danieletrevisani.com 

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For further information see:

Non-Verbal Intercultural Communication (part 1)

© Article translated from the book “Negoziazione interculturale, comunicazione oltre le barriere culturali” (Intercultural Negotiation: Communication Beyond Cultural Barriers) 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 for any Publisher wishing to consider it for publication in English and other languages except for Italian and Arab whose rights are already sold and published. If you are interested in publishing the book in English, or any other language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact the author from the webstite www.danieletrevisani.com 

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In the next two articles we are going to deal with non-verbal communication and its characteristics: in fact, the non-verbal language can deeply affect the result of an intercultural negotiation both positively and negatively, even though it is often a neglected aspect of communication.

The main channels through which the negotiator can send messages are the paralinguistic system (vocal aspects of communication, such as tones, accents, silences, interjections), the body language (body language), and personal accessories, including clothing and the general look.

To negotiate at an intercultural level, it is necessary to create a relationship. Body movements and attitudes can strongly express the interlocutor’s satisfaction, as well as his/her disgust and emotional suffering.

We perceive the interlocutor’s attitude through his/her behaviour, rather than through the linguistic content, which remains on the relationship surface. In depth, one’s relationship is determined by body and face movements, looks, facial expressions, and, generally, by the communicator’s complete non-verbal repertoire.

The intercultural negotiator, however, must always consider the fact that some non-verbal signals cane be perceived differently by another culture, sometimes even in an opposite way.

Wrong non-verbal and body attitudes can easily lead to an escalation (rise in tension, nervousness and irritation), while the task of an intercultural negotiator is to create a de-escalation: moderation of tones, relaxed atmosphere, favourable environment for negotiation.

The general objective of every intercultural negotiation is, in fact, achieving results, but, in order to do so, a climate of cooperation is needed.

The intercultural negotiator must therefore activate some conflict de-escalation procedures, practices that lead to a non-conflictual negotiation situation.

But what are these practices? In general, each culture uses different non-verbal rules, and therefore we would need for each nation or culture with which we deal.

The problem with these “easy manuals” is their poor resistance over time (cultures evolve) and in space (cultures change even within a few kilometres). Moreover, if you take them as rules, there is a real possibility to apply stereotypes, that are no longer valid.

When there is no specific indication that come from up-to-date experts of a particular culture, we can use some general rules of good communication, which can help us reduce errors, as exposed by the Public Policy Centre of the University of Nebraska:

  • use a calm, non-aggressive tone of voice;
  • smile, express acceptance;
  • use facial expression of interest;
  • use open gestures;
  • allow the person you are talking to dictate the spatial distances (spatial distances vary widely between cultures);
  • nod, give nods of agreement;
  • focus on people and not on documents;
  • bend your body forward as a sign of interest;
  • maintain a relaxed attitude;
  • hold an L-shaped position;
  • sit by your interlocutor’s side, not in front of him/her, because that is a confrontational position.

I would like to highlight that these general rules are only “possible options” and must be adapted to culture and context.

While talking about the non-verbal language it is impossible not to mention the body language. Our body speaks, expresses emotions and feelings.

The body language concerns:

  • facial expressions;
  • nods;
  • limbs movements and gestures;
  • body movements and social distance;
  • physical contact.

Cultural differences related to this area of communication can be deep. There are no golden rules teaching us what’s best: each choice is strategic and linked to the context (“contextual appropriateness“).

Physical contact, for example, is one of the most critical elements: while some Western standards of physical contact spread throughout the entire business community (e.g. shaking hands), every culture expresses a different degree of contact during greetings and interactions.

In general, if it is not possible to collect accurate information from experts of the local culture, it is advisable to limit physical contact in order not to generate a sense of invasiveness.

The study “of observations and theories concerning the use of human space, seen as a specific elaboration of culture” (Hall, 1988) is defined by proxemics.

On the negotiation front, the implications are numerous, since every culture has unwritten rules to define the boundaries of acceptability of interpersonal distances. In this case too, resorting to experts of the local culture is fundamental. If we do not have this possibility, then a valid rule is to let the other party define their own degree of distance, without forcing either an approach or a removal.

Human critical distances have an animal basis and a strong cultural variance: for example, Arab and Latin cultures are often “closer”, while Anglo-Saxon cultures are more “distant”.

Another element of non-verbal language, that we must consider, is the paralinguistic system. Paralinguistics concerns all vocal emissions that are not strictly related to “words”, and includes:

  • tone of the voice;
  • volume;
  • silences;
  • pauses;
  • rhythm of speech;
  • interjections (short vocal emissions, like “er”, “uhm”, etc.).

Paralinguistics establishes speech punctuation and helps convey emotional information.

To be continued…

"Intercultural Negotiation" by Daniele Trevisani

© Article translated from the book “Negoziazione interculturale, comunicazione oltre le barriere culturali” (Intercultural Negotiation: Communication Beyond Cultural Barriers) 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 for any Publisher wishing to consider it for publication in English and other languages except for Italian and Arab whose rights are already sold and published. If you are interested in publishing the book in English, or any other language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact the author from the webstite www.danieletrevisani.com 

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For further information see: