Empathy & Sympathy

Article translated by dott.ssa Pilli Laura, CIELS Advanced Degree in Strategic Communication (“Laurea Magistrale in Comunicazione Strategica”), extracted with the author’s permission from the book “Active Listening and Empathy. The Secrets for Effective Communication” (original title: “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace”), written by Daniele Trevisani, published by Franco Angeli, Milan.

1.6 Empathy and listening are good for those who practice them, and for those who receive them: Some evidence from the research

Give your absence to who does not value your presence.
(Oscar Wilde)

Empathy is a value and it generates value. Therefore, it is good to see what some of the indications from the world of research have to say about this. Empathy, practising it well, requires a well-functioning mind[1]. This means for us, that the empathic communicator has to take care of himself, his health, the state of his mind, e.g. he/she must be rested, don’t abuse substances, eat and exercise – in short, we are dealing with athletes of communication and athletes of the mind.

Of course, it can be argued that some psychotherapists manage to be extremely good at active listening and empathic even at the age of 80, or with a sick body, but let us not forget how much experience is supporting them, and therefore, let us do our personal homework diligently to find our best shape and have a body-mind that supports and helps us.

Taking care of oneself helps empathy. Having personal, physical, bodily, mental, motivational energy helps empathy. If you don’t have energy, you will never really listen to anyone in depth.

Other evidence: when the subject of active and empathic listening is a distress[2], having a methodological school behind you, for example humanistic psychology, Bioenergetic Counseling, or others, is a helpful factor, because you are no longer alone in listening, you are only alone physically, but the presence of the ‘school’ helps you to proceed well. However much good will you have, having a school behind you gives structure, helps, supports morally.

The ‘school’ can also be an association, club or group of people where people meet and discuss about methods and work, cases or models, and this discussion is of enormous professional enrichment. Whether it is a circle of leaders, a circle of Counselors, a training school, moments of “unwinding and realignment” like those of supervision are fundamental, even in the non-clinical context. Indeed, think how much better it can be in a company to have interviews with employees by a leader, knowing they have a Mentor and then being able to discuss them with a supervisor, rather than leaving them in the dark.

Finally, an important reflection. Empathy is a concept that is interpreted in literature in many, sometimes incompatible ways[3].

The substantial distinction is between two extremes, an emotional type of empathy, which is primarily experience-centred, i.e. based on feeling and reflecting the feelings of the speaker, and a cognitive type of empathy, based on reflecting and understanding the reasoning of the speaker.

Our vision is that empathy is a concrete form of mental presence in communication, a conversation in which the End State (point of arrival) to understand a person in their full physical, bodily, intellectual and emotional nuances.

In our method, therefore, empathy must be both emotional and cognitive. It means being able to understand a situation or a piece of life from the point of view of the person who is experiencing it, and this requires shedding light on both emotional components (understanding emotions and their nuances) and reasoning (understanding values, beliefs, actions, structured thoughts). Only the union of the two components can lead to true empathy, at least as far as empathic listening is concerned.

The empathic ‘way of being’, which means constantly living with attention and sensitivity to the emotions of others, is a different matter, but this is outside the scope of the technique of active and empathic listening and is certainly not to be condemned, but neither is it to be forced.

I think it is right to leave it up to the free will of each person how to lead their lives. Certainly, however, when we enter into an active or empathic listening session, being able to tap into this sensitivity is needed.

1.7. Difference between empathy and sympathy

Empathy and sympathy must be distinguished. Empathy means to understand. For example in the company, to understand why a customer postpones a purchase or wants a low-priced product, why a customer arrives late for an appointment, whether it is because of strategy or real impediment, or why a customer tells us about a certain specific problem, what is behind it. Sympathy, on the other hand, means appreciating, sharing, agreeing. Selling requires the application of empathy and not necessarily sympathy. The same applies to a coaching, a counselling or a leadership interview.

Active listening and empathy should not be confused with acceptance of others’ contents or values. A decalogue of active listening is not to be confused with blind acceptance of other people’s content. These are merely methods of allowing other people’s thoughts to flow as freely as possible in order to gain openness and useful information.

The phase of inner judgement on what we hear, which is inevitable during negotiation, must be ‘relegated’ to our internal processing, held for later stages of negotiation, and must not interfere with the listening phase.

When our aim is to listen, we must listen.

To do this we will have to:

  • suspend our judgment;
  • give signals of assent and presence (contact signals, phatic signals);
  • try to stay connected to the flow of the discourse;
  • ask questions whenever an aspect seems worthy of investigation;
  • avoid ‘anticipating’ (e.g.: I am sure that you…) and avoid making statements that are ‘stances’;
  • simply rephrase the key points of what the other person said;
  • do not interrupt inappropriately.

We should reserve our judgement or make clarifications only after having listened in depth and inside an appropriate negotiation frame. The aim of empathic techniques is to encourage the flow of other people’s thoughts, and to collect as many ‘information nuggets‘ as possible that the interlocutor can give. Empathy, if well applied, produces “empathic flow“, a flow of data, factual, sentimental, experiential information, of enormous usefulness to the negotiator.

The opposite behaviour (judging, correcting, affirming, blocking) breaks the empathic flow, and risks stopping the collection of valuable information prematurely.

Few people think, but they all want to judge.
(King Frederick the Great)

There is a moment when the negotiator has to stop the flow of the other person’s discourse (turning point) but in general it is good to let it flow, until one has really understood who one is dealing with and what the real objectives are, and all other necessary information. Empathic techniques are also helpful in curbing the premature tendency towards informational self-disclosure: the giving of information, the inappropriate or premature leaking of data about ourselves. Giving the customer information and data that could be counterproductive has a boomerang effect. Any information must be given with extreme caution.

The empathic attitude is extremely useful in focusing the negotiator’s mental energies on listening to the other person and curbing our own inappropriate interference.

Let us also remember another point. Listening is a gift. Giving the gift of listening, today, in a materialistic world, is among the most precious gifts one can give, provided that the person who has to be listened interests us and we want to give this gift. Human time is precious and limited, and listening well, takes time. For this reason, dedicating a moment of life to someone full of quality listening, and doing it with passion, must be done for work, or for love.

“Loving means above all listening”

[1] Neumann D1, Zupan B. Empathic Responses to Affective Film Clips Following Brain Injury and the Association with Emotion Recognition Accuracy. In:  Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2018 Aug 21. pii: S0003-9993(18)30938-9. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2018.07.431.

[2] Guan K, Kim RE, Rodas NV, Brown TE, Gamarra JM, Krull JL, Chorpita BF,. Emergent Life Events: An In-Depth Investigation of Characteristics and Provider Responses during Youth Evidence-Based Treatment. In: J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol. 2018 Aug 24:1-16. doi: 10.1080/15374416.2018.1496441.

[3] Dohrenwend AM. Defining Empathy to Better Teach, Measure, and Understand its Impact. In: Acad Med. 2018 Aug 21. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000002427.


Article translated by dott.ssa Pilli Laura, CIELS Advanced Degree in Strategic Communication (“Laurea Magistrale in Comunicazione Strategica”), extracted with the author’s permission from the book “Active Listening and Empathy. The Secrets for Effective Communication” (original title: “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace”), written by Daniele Trevisani, published by Franco Angeli, Milan.

Other online material available in these sites:

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CIELS Institutional Website: https://www.ciels.it/

2. Communication and listening as encounter between worlds

Article translated by dott. Marco Recalenda, CIELS Advanced Degree in Strategic Communication (“Laurea Magistrale in Comunicazione Strategica”), extracted with the author’s permission from the book “Active Listening and Empathy. The Secrets for Effective Communication” (original title: “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace”), written by Daniele Trevisani, published by Franco Angeli, Milan.

2.3. The relational approach. A question of voice, words, and content

During any human interaction, there are moments of rapprochement and estrangement between people. Listening, when well done, is certainly a moment of relational rapprochement.

Words take on meaning only based on an agreement between the parties, otherwise they would just be empty sounds. The theory of the Coordinated Management of Meanings[1] highlights precisely that the word with its set of shared meanings is the result of a work of coordination between the many possible meanings. For the listener, being reassured about the meaning of the primary words we are using is crucial.

If an entire discourse, for example, revolves around the theme of Corporate Training, it is not a bad idea to actively ask “What is your conception of Corporate Training?” and compare it with your own.

In this way we will know if there are any divergences of meaning (semantic divergences) that might hinder our understanding.

To judge a man, one must at least know the secret of his thinking, his misfortunes, his emotions.

 (Honoré de Balzac)

There are distances, relational distances, no less important than physical distances. Listening is the most powerful mechanism we have for reducing relational distances between human beings.

Incommunicability, on the other hand, is an enemy both of communication between people and of human mechanisms such as being friends, getting along, doing things together and having fun. It also affects relations in companies, between companies, between nations and even between whole cultures and global areas.

I give a brief initial example of good listening skills, made, not by chance, by a friend who is also a psychotherapist and counsellor, to whom I tell by phone the joy of starting this book:

  • Daniele “You know Lorenzo, it’s coming out really well, today I was in the library with all the windows open, crisp air, and I wrote really well, the book is starting to take shape, I can feel it flowing”.
  • Lorenzo: “I’m glad to hear you are so lively”.

As can be seen, the active listening of my colleague and friend Dr. Lorenzo Manfredini does not even concern himself with the content (he could have asked, for example, which chapter I was on), but “reflects” a very special kind of listening, that of my mood, perceived above all by the paralinguistic system (tone of voice, timbre, speed of speech, intonation), even more than by the words themselves (verbal component, the words I used).

Intonation is one of the ‘prosodic elements’ of language. It is composed of the tone and modulation of the voice during the articulation of a word or sentence. Prosody is the part of linguistics that studies the intonation, rhythm, duration, and accent of spoken language. Prosodic information, such as intonation, is full of meanings, for example, it tells us something about the health and fitness of the speaker, the energy in circulation, the mood. An example of augmented listening is listening to intonation:

“The rising and falling tone or the use of a particular chant are ‘paralinguistic’ elements of communication, which add to the meaning conveyed by words. This level of communication can never be eliminated from vocal communication, not even from artificially produced communication, which in fact often appears mechanical to us precisely because of its ‘flat’ intonation. Paralinguistic communication mainly conveys information about the identity of the speaker (gender, geographical origin, etc.) and about the relationships that the sender intends to establish with the recipient (play, joke, command, question, etc.)”[2]


And that is exactly what the friend did, connecting to the relationship of “sharing happiness” which was my primary communicative intent.

Listening to the underlying communicative intent, and not just the words, is an example of listening beyond words, and augmented perception.

This is to say that advanced active listening can enter our every moment, our every day, it requires skills, and it is not just about the words, but rather and above all about the communicative intent that a person expresses, usually doing so in a totally undeclared way.

If we had been in a project in which this transmission of messages was connected to a deadline, the question could have been about what page I was on in relation to the deadline; the communicative intent could have been about a practical need to understand if we were late, and that would have been the appropriate question, but as this was not the case, a far superior, advanced, active listening competence emerged.

“Speech belongs half to the speakerhalf to the listener.”

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne

Whenever we listen deeply, in some way, we are connecting to the inner worlds of people, we are getting closer to the ‘core’ of the individual, to their ‘moods’, their personality, their history, and not just facts and figures. Then, and only then, can we begin to grasp its infinite nuances, and begin to understand it.

2.4. Listening to the micro-signals of voice and words. From vocal stress to quality of pronunciation, to confidence and trustworthiness, to gait. Listening to the ‘whole’

Auditory listening comes through the vibrations of the vocal cords creating sounds, which we recognise as words.

When we are stressed, e.g., by telling a lie, or dealing with a subject that is overly sensitive to us, the body unconsciously activates the attack-escape system (sympathetic nervous system) – increasing the readiness of the muscles to spring into action. The vocal cords do not escape, and their vibration goes from a state of relaxation to a more tremulous voice (microtremors) which corresponds to a voice under stress.

This is to say that while we are listening, not only do ‘grammatical’ words come in, but my processing of what I hear takes place, and a form of judgement or evaluation is triggered, not only of the content (ethical or moral evaluation), but also of the speaker’s skills, or his state of stress. If an Italian person quotes a word in English, e.g., Bed & Breakfast, based on how well he pronounces even single words in English, I will understand how familiar he is with that language, how much he has studied it, and even whether he has lived there for a long time. This is augmented perception. Someone who talks about sales and uses the word Sales literally, verbatim – is telling us, unintentionally, that they have extremely poor English and probably do not have the awareness to make a big impression on someone who knows the language well.

People observe the colors of a day only at its beginnings and ends, but to me it’s quite clear that a day merges through a multitude of shades and intonations with each passing moment. A single hour can consist of thousands of different colors. Waxy yellows, cloud-spot blues. Murky darkness. In my line of work, I make it a point to notice them. 

(Markus Zusak)

If while the person is speaking, we hear a vocal tremor, we are practising advanced listening, listening to the components of vocal stress is an indicator of ongoing lies or emotional difficulties, we think the person is under stress.

Not only that, but we also listen more than words if we phone a person in the morning, and we hear a low timbre of voice, so we go as far as to ask, “oh sorry, did you just wake up?” even if the person answering the phone does not mention it at all. We pick it up from the voice, from its qualities. Our mirror neurons allow us to identify and feel what we perceive. The thought of what might be happening takes shape in our mind, based on what might have happened to us on similar occasions. This is also an advanced and active listening dynamic.

“The first step to understanding reality is to become aware of how it takes shape in our mind.”

Stefano Nasetti

But back to examples of content. If I talk about white fibres and red fibres (two different types of muscle fibres)[3],I assume that the other person understands me and has studied motor sciences or medicine or physiology.

And not only that. The quality of the exposition will tell me a lot about his cultural status, and the calmness with which he expounds will help me to understand if it is the first time or one of the many he talks about, and therefore if he is an expert in the field or not (and this without the person having either said or officially announced it).

And always looking at the ‘unspoken’, it is enough to see a person enter a bar or walk down the street and deduce from the type of walk, posture and body size and their proportions, a lot of data with respect to age, state of health, doing or not doing sports, and a lot of other information.

2.5. Meeting between worlds and personal ‘spheres

Really important encounters are planned by the souls long before the bodies see each other.

(Paulo Coelho)

Cultural and professional backgrounds, combined with our personal history, our state of mind, our values, make us unique “systems”.

Everyone is unique, a ‘sphere’ of meanings, energies, dreams, ambitions, tangible cells, and intangible thoughts.

Listening means getting closer to that sphere. Deep listening means entering that sphere.

The more you activate empathy, the more you enter the “core” of the person.

Each person can be likened metaphorically to an energy field, a field of light, which at some time meets other energy fields, other fields of light, finding or not finding possibilities for exchange, osmosis, transmission of signals, or remaining distant, impermeable.

 Eventually soulmates meet, for they have the same hiding place.

(Robert Brault)

If I assume that we will magically understand each other, I will not be doing quality listening. Listening means being ready to approach worlds we do not know, and not just letting words in through our ears.

We find ourselves in a world in which everyone is within their own ‘sphere’ – a set of thoughts, signals, words, values, – together referred to in the HPM method as the ‘Semiosphere’. Each of us lives in a ‘world’, in a sphere of words, concepts, ideologies and beliefs about the world and ourselves. Communication poses the challenge of passing messages between people from different backgrounds. Listening must always consider the possibility that the other person has a different culture from ours, even if it is only slightly different, which would imply the need to listen without preconceptions. Even the difference between a humanistic and a technical-engineering education can create a degree of incommunicability. Not understanding each other is more frequent than we think.

Every day we go around in a crowd, we run here and there, we almost touch each other but, there is truly little contact. All those missed encounters. All those missed opportunities. It is disturbing when you think about it. Maybe it is better not to think about it at all.

(Jonathan Coe)

Every professional or family background offers you a world of words that you use daily, until those words become your world. This world becomes your daily sphere, your sphere of words, your sphere of relationships, your sphere of high or low, strong, or weak energies.

At some moment, these spheres have occasion for contact, but the different backgrounds make understanding not automatic or obvious.

When this moment of contact occurs, the two ‘spheres’ can repel each other ‘by the skin’, like two balls of equal magnetic charge repel each other.

Attraction or repulsion occurs when archaic elements of the brain (archipallium) give us signals of displeasure or pleasantness, towards a face or smells that offer us signals of danger, or with signals that also come from body language, posture, smiles and facial expressions. If the signals are negative, they alert our alarm systems, they are certainly not conducive to listening, but if we know that they are being activated, we can go beyond those signals, listen, and perceive with greater awareness what is happening inside us.

Listening to a person who disturbs us is something we avoid as much as possible and reduce to the bare minimum, and we notice this even between people who love each other but have had a fight. There is no less talking, there is less listening.

Listening therefore means much more than hearing words, but observing movement, the body, gestures, facial expressions, objects, moods.

Miraculously (but it is not a miracle, but the effect of well analysable human mechanisms) the opposite can also happen, a magnetic-like attraction, a human contact where we can find an understanding with someone, a way to share something between our spheres of meaning. And almost always, in this case, listening will become an extremely pleasant process.

I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter.

(Winston Churchill)

[1] Pearce, W. B.; Pearce, K. “Extending the Theory of the Coordinated Management of Meaning (“CMM”) Through a Community Dialogue Process” . Communication Theory. 10: 2000.

Pearce, W. Barnett, Vernon E. Cronen, and Linda M. Harris. “Methodological considerations in building human communication theory.” Human communication theory: Comparative essays (1982): 1-41.

[2] Voce Intonazione, da Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation.

[3] Fibre muscolari a contrazione lenta o veloce  – Le fibre muscolari striate sono classificate in fibre a contrazione lenta (I tipo) e veloce (II tipo). Le fibre di I tipo sono responsabili del tono muscolare; esse presentano un colore più scuro e vengono chiamate anche fibre rosse, per la ricchezza di mioglobina, si contraggono più lentamente e hanno una resistenza maggiore all’esaurimento (sono i muscoli che prevalgono ad esempio in un maratoneta); quelle di II tipo, invece, sono più chiare (chiamate quindi fibre bianche), producono scatti potenti ed esauriscono l’energia rapidamente (sono la tipologia muscolare che coltiva un sollevatore di pesi, un artista marziale, o un pugile, ad esempio). La maggior parte dei muscoli scheletrici è composta da fibre di entrambi i tipi.

Le fibre di cui disponiamo non sono solo geneticamente determinate, ma si modificano con l’allenamento e in base al tipo specifico di allenamento.

Il potenziamento dell’uno o dell’altro tipo di fibre muscolari attraverso uno specifico allenamento permette lo sviluppo di qualità fisiche come la resistenza, l’elasticità muscolare, la velocità. In altre parole, è possibile determinare le tipologie di muscoli che vogliamo avere e le loro qualità principali.

Elaborato con modifiche da Microsoft ® Encarta ®. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation.


Article translated by dott. Marco Recalenda, CIELS Advanced Degree in Strategic Communication (“Laurea Magistrale in Comunicazione Strategica”), extracted with the author’s permission from the book “Active Listening and Empathy. The Secrets for Effective Communication” (original title: “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace”), written by Daniele Trevisani, published by Franco Angeli, Milan.

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The attitudinal segmentation

Article translated by dott.ssa Pilli Laura, 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.

  • Group D: moderately negative subjects. Negativity can come either from recognising only negative points, or from recognising more negative (or more intense) points than positive ones. Any positive points, in the context of overall attitudes towards the product or proposal, become a minority.
  • Group E: strongly negative subjects; negative beliefs may be numerous and add up, or they may be few in number but of such high intensity that they overshadow any other possible evaluation.

Fig. 21 – Distribution of attitudes along the positive/negative continuum

These different stages correspond to different psychological realities that the seller will find in the buyer. The difficulty of selling will increase as one moves from group A to group E, although skilled sellers will not be discouraged much in dealing with E subjects.

Attitudinal segmentation (identification of diversified subgroups according to existing attitudes), aims to:

– framing the structure of pre-existing attitudes,

– identify priority targets,

– defining attack strategies for different targets.

Let’s look at an example of concept-acceptance latitude, applied on a fictitious subject, who possesses a strong negative attitude towards immigration, and a strong positive attitude towards entrepreneurship, as well as other more nuanced attitudes on a number of other evaluative items.

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1. Speak clearly and use positive communication. The 4 Distances Model

Articolo tradotto dal libro “Parliamoci chiaro”, estratto e pubblicato con il permesso dell’autore Prof. Daniele Trevisani, www.danieletrevisani.it www.comunicazioneaziendale.it – Articolo redatto a cura di: dott.ssa Laura Pilli, CIELS Padova

… if you do not accept a life of mediocricity, a mediocre communication, among empty, dull lives, masks and shadows, you will find your way… because you will seek it every day as a flower seeks the light.

Daniele Trevisani

What is a positive conversation? It is a form of meeting from which we come out happy. And not so much for what we brought home, but for how we felt, for what we managed to build, for that positive future of which that piece of conversation became a piece, and for the pleasure that piece of life itself gave us.

On the other hand, a negative conversation is full of misunderstandings, bad emotional states, greyness. It is ‘communicative entropy’ (confusion about the meanings and purposes of communication), and it produces a drain on our most precious strengths and resources: personal energies, emotions, time.

Today’s words are often ‘sick’, they have lost the deep and strong meaning they used to have. Abused and forced, they went off.

The word ‘Love’ has many meanings; we say we love ice cream, a pair of jeans or a particular movie. We have abused that word and now we have to heal it: words can get sick and can lose their original meaning; we have to detoxify them and bring them back to health.

Thich Nhat Hanh[1]

An healthy, well-functioning communication succeeds in getting messages across with words, gestures, symbols, and succeeds in getting the original meaning across ‘cleanly’, without misunderstanding. A sick communication, on the other hand, causes the original message to arrive ‘distorted’, amputated, modified, even opposed to the sender’s intentions. From here to the arrival of misunderstanding, conflict, between people, groups and even nations, it is a short step.

We need a model to guide us through the meanders of what goes on in a conversation, which is difficult but not impossible, and the Four Distances Model is designed to do that.

Decide to ‘take charge’ of your own communication skills, and work on them, is a courageous, noble act, worthy of people with a strong moral character.

“When a man decides to do something, he must go all the way but he must also take responsibility for what he does. Whatever he does, he must first know why he does it, and then he must go ahead with his actions without doubt or remorse. In a world where death is chasing us, there is no time for regrets or doubts. There is only time for decisions.”

Carlos Castaneda, “Teachings of Don Juan”

“To build” something positive with communication is not obvious, very often one word, one look, is enough to build, and another is enough to destroy or damage.

Communication is an act that can generate a wonderful, positive, happy experience of great sharing beyond all forms of separation and barriers. But it is an achievement.

Those who ‘pretend’ that differences between people do not exist or do not matter are hiding the reality of the situation. Much better to consider this reality and treat it for what it is, with courage.

A fundamental point to be clarified immediately is that communication is not a message “thrown into space” that will never be answered, but a form of continuous interaction, a real conversation in which senders and receivers are always active. Hundreds and thousands of micro-communications take place between them, each of which may be clear or may lead to confusion, misunderstandings or negative emotional states.

To start a positive communication, therefore, we have to take care of the individual communication ‘frames’, just as someone takes care of a delicate flower in a greenhouse, flower after flower, plant after plant.

Each of us has his or her own interests, needs, requirements, and these ooze and seep into our every interaction. The human communication is a tool, and sometimes it is the only tool we have, to get the resources for our survival, or to get what we want in life, to achieve goals, and to rejoice for the results that communication can bring us.

Take away a man’s ability to communicate, and he will become a stone.

But as we all know, it is not enough to communicate “just to do”, it is not enough to ask in order to receive. Those who think that everything will come automatically, that everyone will always say yes and agree, perhaps have in mind a communication model in which a master commands and the slaves silently execute. A condition of communicative submission that has a little room in our hearts.

In the real life, the possibility of enslavement is fortunately increasingly remote, though not eradicated. The probability that it is necessary to be clear, or persuasive, or to communicate clearly and assertively, is much more concrete and real, especially in business and family environments.

Also because slavery today takes subtle and new forms, such as living in emotionally toxic climates without being able to get out of them, or psychological dependence on people we would like to do without, and the inability to be clear and convincing about our rights, and in the projects we work on. For this reason, it is good to take advantage of the methods we will learn about here.

Communication only ever makes sense when it is done to increase happiness, satisfaction, pleasure, positivity, and helps us to identify them, and not to fuel division, conflict, disease.

It is a first big step towards self-knowledge to be able to recognise what makes you happy.
(Lucille Ball)

In communication, the possibility of a misunderstanding, disagreement, communication difficulty or problem is always real and concrete. On the contrary, we are certain that communications can give rise to misunderstandings and conflicts, even serious ones, precisely because they take place in conditions of cultural differences, even slight ones, or in any case of diversity between people, and this, if attention and sensitivity are not paid, will happen.

Talking clearly is therefore also an invitation to confront the psychological and communicative distances that can exist between us and other people, in order to find that ‘effective relational distance’ in which we can communicate well, with respect for ourselves and others. The Four Distances Model helps us precisely to understand what the four major “traps” can be, the types of relational distance we can encounter in communication, but also, and consequently, the drivers of positive communication and strategies to communicate better.

Every time we interact with a person who is even slightly different from us, a few years older than us, a different geographical origin, a different school attended, a different education, a different emotional state, we are in the presence of a certain degree of diversity and this imposes on us the need to adjust our communication. If there are strong ethnic, religious and cultural differences in the underlying ideologies, it becomes even more difficult.

The differences between communicators do not end there. There can be strong differences in the emotional states that I experience and the other person experiences, different personality types that interact with each other and sometimes embrace and make sparks. While communicating, we have diversities in mood, in emotions, in how we feel even physically, diversities and barriers that interact with each other, complicating everything.

Rather than a ‘simple communication’, with even a moderate amount of diversity between people, we should speak and think in terms of ‘strategic communication’.

In a communication that becomes strategic, the concept of “Information Operations” or “Info-Ops” makes its way in, a concept of military derivation, but which gives a good picture of the situation: information and communications, in conditions of diversity, have an aim, they work better if they are planned, if they are architected, and when there is a certain attitude of attention, sensitivity and planning, at least to how to make sure that the message can be accepted by the cultural and ideological filters of those who receive it, and not blocked immediately.

Strategic communication requires models. Models that help to analyse communication, models for constructing messages, models for refined listening and understanding.

Acknowledging that diversities exist and require courage. To want, despite this diversity, to try to build something together is an act of courage.

Courage cannot be counterfeited; it is a virtue that escapes hypocrisy.
(Honoré de Balzac)

To deny diversity between people, and cultural differences on the basis of good ideologies, is instead a great act of intellectual falsehood.

Behind communication there is a huge amount of misunderstanding, miscommunication and misinterpretation, both in the issuing and in the listening phase.

There is not yet a ‘model of incommunicability’ that examines and clarifies this rising tide of unintentional and intentional leaks, communication errors and gaffes, and helps to recognise them, and a step in this direction is the purpose of this volume.

It is an even more urgent purpose because this globalised world puts us face to face with the challenge of a constantly globalised communication, between people thousands of kilometres apart, but also people who are physically close, but culturally and emotionally light years apart.

If we do not accept this reality as a fact, we will never include in our analyses the real elusive factor: the latent diversity between people, the cultural differences and distances between people, and how these factors impact on communication, turning it into – on the one hand – a smooth and pleasant communication, producing agreement and understanding – on the opposite side an unpleasant, conflictual, difficult to digest communication, and its outcomes: disagreement, misunderstanding, incommunicability, mutual hatred and conflict.


Dr. Daniele Trevisani

– Master of Arts in Mass Communication, University of Florida (USA)

– Fulbright Scholar, Intercultural Communication, American University of Washington, DC (USA)

– Certified Advanced Coach by STEP™

– Certified Counselor by STEP™

– Certified Coaching Supervisor by STEP™

– Certified Counseling Supervisor by STEP™

– Master Trainer HPM™ Human Potential Method

– Master Trainer ALM™ Business Coaching Method

– Master Trainer 4DM™ Intercultural Communication Method

[1] Thich Nhat Hanh (2014). Sono qui per te. Per una relazione d’amore duratura e consapevole. Terra Nuova Edizioni, p. 76

Comunicazione interculturale non verbale (parte 1)

© Articolo tradotto dal libro “Negoziazione interculturale, comunicazione oltre le barriere culturali” copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, pubblicato con il permesso dell’autore. I diritti del libro sono in vendita e sono disponibili per qualsiasi Editore che voglia prenderlo in considerazione per la pubblicazione in inglese e in altre lingue ad eccezione dell’italiano e dell’arabo, i cui diritti sono già stati venduti e pubblicati. Se siete interessati a pubblicare il libro in inglese, o in qualsiasi altra lingua, o se cercate Formazione alla Negoziazione Interculturale, Coaching, Mentoring e Consulenza, non esitate a contattare l’autore dal sito web www.danieletrevisani.com


Nei prossimi due articoli ci occuperemo della comunicazione non verbale e delle sue caratteristiche. Il linguaggio non verbale può influenzare profondamente il risultato di una negoziazione interculturale sia positivamente che negativamente, anche se nella comunicazione è spesso un aspetto trascurato.

I principali canali attraverso i quali il negoziatore può inviare messaggi sono il sistema paralinguistico (aspetti vocali della comunicazione, come toni, accenti, silenzi, interiezioni), il linguaggio del corpo (body language), e gli accessori personali, compresi l’abbigliamento e l’aspetto generale.

Per negoziare a livello interculturale, è necessario creare una relazione. I movimenti e gli atteggiamenti del corpo possono esprimere fortemente la soddisfazione dell’interlocutore, così come il suo disgusto e la sua sofferenza emotiva.

Percepiamo l’atteggiamento dell’interlocutore attraverso il suo comportamento, piuttosto che attraverso il contenuto linguistico, che rimane sulla superficie della relazione. In profondità, la relazione è determinata dai movimenti del corpo e del viso, dagli sguardi, dalle espressioni facciali e, in generale, dall’intero repertorio non verbale del comunicatore.

Il negoziatore interculturale, tuttavia, deve sempre considerare il fatto che alcuni segnali non verbali possono essere percepiti diversamente da un’altra cultura, a volte anche in modo opposto.

Atteggiamenti non verbali e corporei sbagliati possono facilmente portare a un’escalation (aumento della tensione, nervosismo e irritazione), mentre il compito di un negoziatore interculturale è quello di creare una de-escalation: moderazione dei toni, atmosfera rilassata, ambiente favorevole alla negoziazione.

L’obiettivo generale di ogni negoziazione interculturale è, infatti, il raggiungimento di risultati, ma, per farlo, è necessario un clima di cooperazione.

Il negoziatore interculturale deve quindiattivare alcune procedure di de-escalation del conflitto, pratiche che portano a una situazione di negoziazione non conflittuale.

Ma quali sono queste pratiche? In generale, ogni cultura usa regole non verbali diverse, dunque avremmo bisogno di regole per ogni nazione o cultura con cui abbiamo a che fare.

Il problema di questi “facili manuali” è la loro scarsa resistenza nel tempo (le culture si evolvono) e nello spazio (le culture cambiano anche in pochi chilometri). Inoltre, se si fa riferimento ad essi come regole, c’è la possibilità reale di applicare stereotipi che poi non sono più validi.

Quando non ci sono indicazioni specifiche che provengono da esperti aggiornati di una particolare cultura, possiamo usare alcune regole generali di buona comunicazione, che possono aiutarci a ridurre gli errori, come esposto dal Public Policy Centre dell’Università del Nebraska:

  • usare un tono di voce calmo e non aggressivo;
  • sorridere, esprimere accettazione;
  • usare un’espressione facciale di interesse;
  • usare gesti aperti;
  • permettere alla persona con cui si sta parlando di dettare le distanze spaziali (le distanze spaziali variano molto tra le culture);
  • annuire, dare cenni di assenso;
  • concentrarsi sulle persone e non sui documenti;
  • piegare il corpo in avanti come segno di interesse;
  • mantenere un atteggiamento rilassato;
  • tenere una posizione a L;
  • sedersi a fianco del proprio interlocutore, non di fronte a lui/lei, poiché quest’ultima è una posizione di confronto.

Vorrei sottolineare che queste regole generali sono solo “opzioni possibili” e devono essere adattate alla cultura e al contesto.

Parlando del linguaggio non verbale è impossibile non menzionare il body language. Il nostro corpo parla, esprime emozioni e sentimenti.

Il body language riguarda:

  • espressioni facciali;
  • cenni;
  • movimenti degli arti e gesti;
  • movimenti del corpo e distanza sociale;
  • contatto fisico.

Le differenze culturali legate a questo settore della comunicazione possono essere profonde. Non ci sono regole d’oro che ci insegnano cosa è meglio: ogni scelta è strategica e legata al contesto (“appropriatezza contestuale“).

Il contatto fisico, per esempio, è uno degli elementi più critici: mentre alcuni standard occidentali di contatto fisico si diffondono in tutta la comunità commerciale (per esempio stringere la mano), ogni cultura esprime un diverso grado di contatto durante i saluti e le interazioni.

In generale, se non è possibile raccogliere informazioni precise da esperti della cultura locale, è consigliabile limitare il contatto fisico per non generare un senso di invasività.

Lo studio “delle osservazioni e delle teorie riguardanti l’uso dello spazio umano, visto come un’elaborazione specifica della cultura” (Hall, 1988) è definito dalla prossemica.

Sul fronte della negoziazione, le implicazioni sono numerose, poiché ogni cultura ha regole non scritte per definire i confini dell’accettabilità delle distanze interpersonali. Anche in questo caso, ricorrere ad esperti della cultura locale è fondamentale. Se non abbiamo questa possibilità, allora una regola valida è quella di lasciare che l’altra parte definisca il proprio grado di distanza, senza forzare né un avvicinamento né un allontanamento.

Le distanze critiche umane hanno una base animale e una forte varianza culturale: per esempio, le culture arabe e latine sono spesso “più vicine”, mentre le culture anglosassoni sono più “lontane”.

Un altro elemento del linguaggio non verbale che dobbiamo considerare è il sistema paralinguistico. La paralinguistica riguarda tutte le emissioni vocali che non sono strettamente legate alle “parole”, e comprende:

  • il tono della voce;
  • il volume;
  • silenzi;
  • pause;
  • ritmo del discorso;
  • interiezioni (brevi emissioni vocali, come “er”, “uhm”, etc.).

La paralinguistica stabilisce la punteggiatura del discorso e aiuta a trasmettere informazioni emotive.


"Intercultural Negotiation" by Daniele Trevisani

© Articolo tradotto dal libro “Negoziazione interculturale, comunicazione oltre le barriere culturali” copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, pubblicato con il permesso dell’autore. I diritti del libro sono in vendita e sono disponibili per qualsiasi Editore che voglia prenderlo in considerazione per la pubblicazione in inglese e in altre lingue ad eccezione dell’italiano e dell’arabo, i cui diritti sono già stati venduti e pubblicati. Se siete interessati a pubblicare il libro in inglese, o in qualsiasi altra lingua, o se cercate Formazione alla Negoziazione Interculturale, Coaching, Mentoring e Consulenza, non esitate a contattare l’autore dal sito web www.danieletrevisani.com


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