The Scale of Listening Levels

Ascolto attivo ed empatia: I segreti di una comunicazione efficace di [Daniele Trevisani]
Article translated by dott.ssa Federica Franca, 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.

2.9 Empathic listening

Listening without bias or distraction is the greatest value you can pay another person.

(Denis Waitley)

Empathy is a superior and highly advanced state of human relationships. It means learning how to put yourself in someone’s shoes in order to feel what they feel.

Empathy – per se – is neither positive nor negative: we can also use it to understand the way outlaws and killers think and to find out what their next move is going to be (strategic empathy).

 In wider terms, when referring to everyday human and professional relationships, empathy is positive and rare. As Jeremy Rifkin points out:

“empathic consciousness is based on the awareness that others – like us – are unique and mortal beings. We empathise with people because we recognise their fragile and limited nature, their vulnerability and their one and only life; we experience their existential aloneness, suffering and struggle to exist and evolve as if these feelings were ours. Our empathic embrace is our way to sympathise with the others and to celebrate their lives”.[1]

Empathy is rare because it requires the subtle ability to “tune in” emotionally and to understand the hidden, emotional and personal levels of the interlocutor’s experience – rather than the numerical or objective data they expose. Empathy also uses metacommunication (meaning “communication about communication itself ”): for instance, it fearlessly asks for the meaning of a word it does not understand or it explains useful ideas for the communication process itself – when the listener does not speak.

Empathic listening is rare. We could say last time we found it was when a person listened to us for an entire hour, without talking about themselves – only listening to what we wanted to say (both information and emotions) and asking questions for a better understanding. If this has ever happened to you, it was probably during a coaching, counselling or therapy session. It rarely happens in daily life.

Shorter periods of time – but with the same listening intensity – can be found in real friendship or with loyal partners at work, but the attention is not necessarily focused on one person – as it happens when talking about empathy. Besides, if specific courses to learn empathy are needed, it is because school, academic education and manuals tend to give information, rather than teaching how to listen.

Just as the art of narrating exists – firmly codified through thousands of attempts and mistakes – the art of listening also exists, equally ancient and noble, which, however, as far as i know, has never been validated.

(Primo Levi)

The most difficult part of empathic listening is the suspension of judgement. If anyone says, “I hit my child” or “I threw the rubbish bag out the window”, it is impossible not to judge. Yet, “suspending the judgement” means precisely that – and not to “make judgement disappear”. Suspending it is fundamental in order to understand what, where, how and why certain things happens. If we did not do it, we would miss a large part of the information we could obtain.

2.10. Sympathetic listening

Sometimes, some fondness are so powerful that, when meeting for the first time, it feels like meeting again.

 (Alfred de Musset)

Sympathetic listening expresses affinity towards the speaker; it aims to both listen and show affection and delight during the interaction. Sympathetic listening is not necessarily better than empathic listening; it is just different. Here the priority is to give to the other person the feeling of pleasantness and closeness. Making the interlocutor understand that we are interested in what they say is fundamental – not only regarding the information itself, but also for the person expressing it. The act of listening becomes part of a relational game that has a seductive component; what we are interested in is not a passive data analysis, but we strongly admire and appreciate what has been said. Listening shows human warmth, delight and appreciation, with both verbal and non-verbal communication. Let’s consider a very practical aspect: sympathetic listening brings people closer and this is an excellent psychological strategy for a deeper and more accurate listening.

“We usually consider as good listeners only those people who share our opinion.”

François de La Rochefoucauld

Sympathetic listening can be easily – and wrongly – defined “panderer listening”, but let ask ourselves whether we live in a society that is stingy with compliments. Our society is quick to judge and blame – and it is also stingy, even when we do something good. That is why sympathetic listening – whenever there is the right opportunity – is a precious gift.

When we listen to a person and we sense something good, we should feel free to experience it, without being ashamed.

“Does the song of the sea end at the shore or in the hearts of those who listen to it?”

Khalil Gibran

Throughout the manual various techniques, methods and strategies to practise active and deep listening, to reach hearts and minds, to gather information and to work effectively together will be described.

Yet, whatever our intentions and abilities, there is one thing that cannot be taught, but only recommended: to be willing to listen.

Fig. 4 – Levels of listening quality

 


[1]  Jeremy Rifkin (2011). La civiltà dell’empatia. La corsa verso la coscienza globale nel mondo in crisi. Milano, Mondadori, p. 532 [Eng: “The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis. N.d.T.]

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1.2.           Other available online resources

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

The Scale of Listening Levels

Article translated by dott. Federica Vazquez, 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.

2.1.Negative listening modes: when and how to give the worst of yourself by getting everything wrong in listening 

What is the difference between question and accusation?

An accusation is one that is not answered; a question is answered.

from the movie “The Marauders” by Steven C. Miller

A visual tool is very useful to understand immediately that there is a real “scale” in the levels of listening and in the quality of listening. From a critical listening to an empathic listening, the difference is considerable and tangible. This scale is shown in the next figure. In it, we see a progression towards improvement in listening levels as we move up the scale.

Let’s start with the decidedly negative levels: The negative elements of listening are the ones that make you feel bad when you experience them. They generate the feeling of not being understood, or neglected, or not considered for what is said or even as a person. They go against, in practice, a basic need of every human being: to be understood. A need as strong as the need for air.

To be at your worst in listening, it is enough to interrupt, judge, not listen, get distracted, listen while watching TV or typing on a smartphone, do not look at people, distort every possible interpretation, in short, a whole baggage of errors just mentioned here, which you can explore better below.

Perhaps one did not so much wish to be loved as to be understood. 
(George Orwell)

2.2.Shielded or distorted listening 

Screened listening blocks or amputates part of the data coming from the auditory channel and distorts it, as it does for the other channels: sight, touch, taste, smell. The outcome is not understanding, not paying attention, distorting the incoming data. Literally, understanding one thing for another. It happens when you are too tired to listen, or the listener is experiencing an emotional state that is not appropriate for quality listening (e.g. anger, frustration, euphoria, passion, and many other strong emotions) and there are internal states that stand in the way of quality listening.

You will have very often been on the other side, in the role of the person speaking, and not understood at all, or even completely misunderstood. Well, you now have a definite label for this condition.

2.3. Judgmental/aggressive listening 

Being misunderstood by those we love is the worst condition for living and facing life’s commitments every day. Misunderstanding weighs like a mountain and traces deep furrows on the soul.

 (Romano Battaglia)

Judgmental/aggressive listening is characterized by the fact that the receiver does not really listen but, gathers snippets of information and then immediately makes judgments and judgements. When it affects us, we can say that we are “putting up a wall” towards the other person, such that it doesn’t even matter what they say, how they say it, it’s all wrong “regardless”. What we can call a “negative reverberation” can either touch on “what you said on topic x is nonsense”, or go straight to the heart, attacking the person themselves and not their phrase “you are an egocentric and don’t understand anything”. 

This second form of offense is much more serious than the first because it involves the person in his or her totality: “you are”, and not in a delimited action “you do x and I don’t like that x”. Judgmental listening is done with words, but not only. It can also emerge from a very subtle grimace emitted in a non-verbal way, such as “turning up one’s nose” during an affirmation that one does not approve of, and it is not to be confused with emotional participation in what the other person is saying. Aggressive listening triggers the aggression-hate spiral. It is truly an enemy of human relationships and humanity more generally.

Peace cannot be maintained by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.

 (Albert Einstein)

2.4. Apathetic or passive listening 

That there are worse things than an absence. A distracted presence.

 (manuela_reich, Twitter)

Apathetic or passive listening is characterized by our or others’ “mental absence,” and is negative. Devoid of energy, tired, “dead”, switched off, distracted. It is an empty listening of signals, practiced by a person who is disinterested, or incapable of listening, often totally absorbed by his internal processes, by his inner reasoning, in which the words heard do not make a breach. Like throwing darts at an armored safe, those darts shatter and fall. Nothing really gets in. Communication and messages only touch these people, and to say that they will understand little of what is said is to give them a gift.

Article translated by dott. Federica Vazquez, 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:

Other available online resources

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

1. Listening, empathy, emotions, conversational leadership

Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace

Article translated by dott. ssa Eleonora Brusamento Spinelli, 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.

People don’t listen, they just wait for their turn to talk.
(Chuck Palahniuk)

Effective listening essentially has two meanings: 1) when listening has been useful to gather information and better understand the state of things, facts, and people; 2) when listening has been a pleasant, welcoming moment of relationship, in which we were able to act as an emotional container for the person.

When these two situations occur, we are experiencing effective listening. It is a quite rare situation. During a lifetime, no gold is as rare and as precious as someone who understands you.

Some questions can be useful:

  • Have you ever had the feeling that a person is not listening to you?
  • That they do not want to hear you, or that they cannot hear you at all?
  • Or have you ever felt that while you are talking, the other one is saying things halfway, not saying everything, holding something back? Out of willingness, sometimes, or out of incapacity, or out of fear, who knows?
  • Have you ever felt that persons you are talking, give a false idea of themselves, practising some form of “Impressions Management[1]” (creating an artificial image of themselves)?
  • Have you ever intended to talk to someone in order to deepen a certain theme or situation, while the person continues to escape, run away, avoid?
  • Have you ever felt the presence of a ‘core’ behind a person’s talk, of content – ideas, opinions, projects – which is only observed in transparency, but does not emerge, no matter how hard the person tries to explain himself?

If you have ever experienced even one of these situations, you had been practising ‘listening beyond words’, ‘heightened perception’ and approached or approached the topics of active listening and empathy.

Moreover, if there were interests at stake, you have experienced the importance of Conversational Leadership and the ability to direct the course of a conversation.

In your own life, you have also experienced, how rare active listening is, and that being listened to is quite rare, compared to normal life where everything is rushing, and there is no time for anything.

Rather than blaming others for what they do or do not do, for whoever wants to, the main goal of this book is offering tools to improve your listening, whether at work or in everyday life, and practice quality listening, active listening, and empathic listening.

The spirit of Virgil’s words, his invitation to always seek to understand, is the foundation that runs throughout this book: the underlying value that inspires us to practice active listening.

You can be tired of everything, but not of understanding. (Virgil)

Listening is perception, and perceiving for us is normal, physiological.

You did it hundreds and thousands of times, even just observing people in how they are dressed or how they walk – inevitably. You did it whether you wanted to or not. As perception has become very superficial, so has listening. This is what matters, ashaming because acute perception is a privileged path to truth.

Conversational leadership is the ability to restore the power of listening, to direct the conversation on the issues that interest us, or on the formats that we want to strategically activate (and listening is one of them).

Why is leadership important for listening skills? Because leadership is a voluntary act, and in this volume, listening is considered a voluntary act, decided by the listener, not a random act likely to happen without paying attention.

Human beings are endowed with natural listening skills, they use their hearing ability to understand sounds and words, because this is vital for their survival. If we did not know how to listen, neither to sounds nor to intentions (e.g., aggressive, hostile, or friendly), we would already be extinct.

It is believed that it takes courage to stand up and speak out, to have one is said. Well, very often it also takes courage to put our mind there, where we are now, to listen and look inside the soul and mind of a person.

There is also courage in listening.

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.
(Sir Winston Churchill)

1.1.             Listen to emotions. Emotions and communication

Emotions and communication are strongly related.

In addition to the verbal data (objects, subjects, verbs, adjectives, and other speech elements), we can always notice an emotional background in communication (the outer part of Plutchik’s wheel presented below). Sometimes this background becomes more intense, and we can almost ‘feel’ or ‘perceive’ better the emotional background than single words (area of intermediate emotions). When we enter the extreme emotions area, the intense ones are placed in the middle of the model, words become almost useless, because we are inundated by the emotion coming from the other, and this ends up overwhelming any content.

Plutchik’s Solid or Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions[2] is one of the best representations of how emotions work. We must keep in mind that we are communicators too, so this system also applies when we are the ones talking.

Picture 1 – The wheel of emotions (Plutchik)[3]

(graphic adopted from the original model, referring to bibliography, Plutchik 1980)

Inevitably, in a communicative exchange, we always have an underlying exchange of emotions.

Some people are particularly good and very quick at grasping their inner emotions, directing them, dominating them, making use of them as they wish. For example, speaking in public in front of thousands of people without feeling the slightest bit of anxiety.

On the other hand, other people fall victims of their emotions, may become victims of a love that is blind and deaf to all denials, and persevere in loving a person who does not love them, or who has never even shown any signs of love. They may be afraid even thinking about the idea of speaking in public and fear it like the worst of poisons.

Each communicative situation (COMSIT) owns specific meanings and emotional undertones. COMSITs are specific frames or communicative moments that can be distinguished from each other, such as a dialogue between friends, or an argument, or giving explanations, and a thousand other possibilities in relationships. In each COMSIT, different degrees of incommunicability and different types of emotions arise[4].

What can we do then? The way, the only real way, is “to train oneself to emotions”. This way, it sounds like ‘training to live’, something intangible. And it is precisely this training in the intangible that makes ‘training in emotions’ an exercise in great emotional intelligence. Such as a refined gym of Experiential Coaching, for those who design active training exercises on emotions.

This involves dealing with emotions in an ’emotional laboratory’ where they can be experienced and then ‘debriefed’ with the support of a trainer, coach, counsellor, or psychologist, depending on the type of intervention.

Working on corporate groups and not on clinical pathology situations, requires the Trainer and the Counsellor as main figures and reference. These “emotion workshops” must be engineered by using videos, images, letters, themed dialogues, and any kind of exercise involving emotions.

As Howell[5] said about our ‘unconscious emotional incompetence’, at first, we may find it all a bit silly or we may be ‘clumsy’, but then we will ‘climb’ this peak, step by step, until we reach a strong emotional competence.

This competence is necessary, the higher the career position is. Think of the need for emotional balance in a judge, or a surgeon, or a police officer, or in specific situations such as taking a penalty shot, or in difficult and extreme sports where emotions are everything, or almost everything.

Emotions are often mixed, a cross between different emotional states, as we see in this picture showing the primary, secondary, and tertiary links between emotion dyads in Plutchik’s model.

Picture 2 – Graph displaying the primary, secondary, and tertiary dyads on the Plutchik’s wheel of emotions[6]

Links between emotional state produce different emotions in different emotional state (Mixed Emotions) our everyday actual emotional truth.


[1] Schlenker, Barry R. (1980). Impression Management: The Self-Concept, Social Identity, and Interpersonal Relations. Monterey, California: Brooks/Cole.

[2] Plutchik , Robert (1980), Emotion: Theory, research, and experience: Vol. 1. Theories of emotion, 1, New York: Academic

Plutchik Robert (2002), Emotions and Life: Perspectives from Psychology, Biology, and Evolution, Washington, DC: American Psychological Association

Plutchik Robert; R. Conte., Hope (1997), Circumplex Models of Personality and Emotions, Washington, DC: American Psychological Association

[3] Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotion#/media/File:Plutchik-wheel.svg By Machine Elf 1735 – Own work, Public Domain, ttps://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13285286

[4] Trevisani, Daniele (1992). A Semiotic Models Approach to the Analysis of International/Intercultural Communication; published in “Proceedings of the International and Intercultural Communication Conference”, University of Miami, FL., USA, 19 – 21 May 1992.

[5] Howell, William S. (1982). The empathic communicator. University of Minnesota: Wadsworth Publishing Company

[6] Source: Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Plutchik_Dyads.svg

Picture of the book: Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace

Article translated by dott. ssa Eleonora Brusamento Spinelli, 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.

Source:

-Dott. Trevisani D., Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace, Franco Angeli Edizioni, 2016.

Other online material available in these sites:

Other available online resources

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

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The scale of listening levels

Article translated by dott. Martina GIannotti, 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.

2.5. Fragmented listening


It’s not the chatter of people around us that is the most powerful distractor, but rather the chatter of our own minds. Utter concentration demands these inner voices be stilled.
(Daniel Goleman)

Sometimes attentive listening, sometimes distracted. It is a mechanism that creates bad listening.
Distracted listening is extremely common, probably the most realistic state of average daily interactions.
We listen, then something about someone else’s content ‘turns us on’ because it relates to our own interests, then maybe we ask a follow-up question, then someone else’s content changes, or something comes to mind, we jump from one thought to another, our head ‘goes away’, or we hear a sentence from someone else’s conversation that catches our attention, we get lost, we ‘walk away’ from the conversation, even though we are still physically there. The quickest way to apply bad listening “at times” is to listen with a media on, listen while typing on a keyboard or screen, listen with the TV on or with a monitor on, which we may consider “background” but background is not, as information comes out of it that sometimes catches us, and this is one of the worst listening ever, except for a few moments of “mental presence”.
The effort of talking to someone who listens ‘in fits and starts’ is enormous, both physically and emotionally. After this review of bad listening, let’s move on to listening of a better nature highlighted on the scale.


2.6. Effective listening. Selective, active, empathic and sympathetic listening
When we think of effective listening we first think of positive experiences, moments when we felt heard with our hearts and not just our ears.
But effective listening can have many nuances, which are worth exploring. It is essential to understand that listening becomes effective when it achieves its ends, and its ends are different depending on the relationship. In a phase of listening to a person who has experienced trauma, empathic listening will be important and indeed healing.
But if we are listening to a person who is telling us about an accident in progress in which there are people still in danger, we will have to know how to switch to active and selective listening immediately, not a word more, not a word less. Fast, quick and incisive, getting what we need, to move on to action or swiftly pass the information on to others. And the information must be ‘clean’, otherwise we risk circulating ‘dirty’ and wrong information, and doing damage.
The good listener is therefore not always “good, good, patient, nice and always says yes”, but rather, knows how to use the right listening mode for the purpose, knows how to understand the context, knows how to use multiple tools and modes, which can sometimes be quick and sharp, other times slow, soft and welcoming.

2.7 Selective listening
With selective listening we overcome the “red zone” of listening and enter into modes that can be really useful.
Selective listening, although not empathic in intent, seeks very precise information, which can be both objective (things, people, times) and emotional (moods, feelings), with respect to a certain episode or theme being explored. Whoever wants to do active listening must know how to do selective listening, because in some moments it is essential to know how to “take apart an episode”, to understand what to repeat or not to do again, and to know how to take apart positive episodes, to understand the success factors that we managed to create, and how precisely the chains of events followed one another.
Some listening techniques become fundamental here:
Reflecting: acting as a mirror, reformulating what has been understood. It allows one to be more precise and opens up other content.
Deflecting: Recognising the input of themes that do not belong and managing to get them out of the conversation, dampening them and expelling them.
Probing: Testing a piece of information with a related question, e.g. asking “since you told me he arrived late, when did he arrive?”. Useful for further investigation.
Recap: Recap and relaunch. Recapitulate what has been collected so far and open “OK, we’ve reached the point where you turn up for the interview, they make you wait, you start to get nervous, you walk in and you don’t know what to say. Then what happened?”
Contact: constant eye contact signals, nodding of the head, guttural and paralinguistic expressions (uhm, ah, oh), everything that is a “Fàtic” signal (fàtic signals are those that say, in essence, “I am there”, I am present, I am here for you).
All these techniques will be discussed in more detail when we talk about “conversation analysis”, but it is good to know that they exist, and that active, selective or empathic listening uses precise techniques, and is not limited to the will to listen.

In selective listening, we are extremely focused on understanding a specific thing, a specific question about what the other person is thinking, or a precise piece of information that we want to grasp. 

Everything else is of no interest to us. 

Our mental presence is switched on, sharp, but directed like a laser towards an information point, and not – as in empathic listening – welcoming towards whatever emerges. When material emerges that does not interest us, we bring the conversation back to the ‘focus’ we are interested in with questions (with topic shifting, or conversational refocusing).

In terms of the efficiency and effectiveness of selective listening, our questions only become ‘diagnostic’ when they manage to cleanse the picture, leaving only what really interests us, so practicing it well requires technique and study. This also happens in daily life, and we need not worry about it. The question can be “what time will you be home?” and we can only be interested in one hour, and nothing else. Not the story of life. We have to worry instead if the intention is to listen actively and empathetically to an emotional and human experience, and only questions of clarification or monosyllabic answers come out. If we ask selective listening “where would you like to go on holiday”, the listening will focus only on the “where”, neglecting the “how”, the “subtle nature” of the type of holiday the other person would like to take. Practicing selective listening is not in itself wrong or right. It depends on the consistency between our underlying purpose and the type of questions that come up. We can assess it on the basis of the empathy factor – if our purpose is to create empathy, it can be used but it must be dosed very carefully. Empathy is a process that ‘welcomes’ rather than excludes and so selective listening is great for gathering data but very poor for really targeting emotions.

2.8. Active listening

A good listener is one who helps us overhear ourselves.
(Yahia Lababidi)

When we practice active listening we are immersed in a special activity. We are giving interest, our time, our energy, to understand a person, their content, their intentions, and a piece of their story. People are generally wary of opening up and telling about themselves, their inner selves, even to themselves. Active listening offers a ‘life platform’ where the words of others and the thoughts of others can gently and progressively rest.

Each opening is followed by a greater opening, until the ‘core’ of the person is revealed for what it is, in its splendor, in its pain, in its truth. Freed from masks and self-consciousness.

Getting to the ‘human core’ of a person takes a long way, but it can be done. From the nothingness of empathic listening, every small step towards ‘sharing’ is always significant.

The person who engages in listening, basically, wants to listen, considers it an important fact, to the point of putting the brakes on his or her thinking, omitting to say how he or she thinks, putting the brakes on ‘taking the turn of the conversation’ to make an argument or express opinions. 

Active listening focuses on listening. It does this with words, with questions, and also with the body. It uses bodily and paraverbal signals of participation in what is said, reformulations and recapitulations of perceived content, and other linguistic and non-verbal devices that serve to give the signal “what you say interests me, I am following you”. Active listening can be practiced for two major classes of interests, even opposite to each other. It can be done as an extreme act of love, a gift we give to a friend, or a moment of great humanity in which we take an interest in others. 

Or it can be an extremely strategic listening, a professional listening in which we need the information inside someone else’s mind. We may need it to help the other person, as in coaching or therapy, or we may need it to run an organization, or to make decisions, as in leadership.

In any case, what we have in our minds is always enriched by listening to others.

It is natural that more information emerges from active listening and the person can also expose emotional information, which is all the more profound the more the listener is committed to not judging, not judging, not interrupting, not ‘interpreting’.

Active listening requires energy, commitment, a rested body, an alert and watchful mind. When we are in this mode, even a single nod of the eyebrow can give us valuable information.

We can not be distracted for a moment that we’re screwed 

for the rest of our life! 

Micaela Ramazzotti – Anita

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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.

Other online material available in these sites:

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

Fonte:

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

Empathy and Active Listening (part 2)

© 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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Let’s continue explaining the advantages deriving from empathy and active listening, basic principles of the ALM business method.

Silence

Quality listening requires silence.

When you listen, in silence, even the subtlest rustle acquires meaning. By combining any sensory information, we are able to perceive more in a quiet situation, rather than in a chaotic one. If we can’t grasp information, we will never be able to interpret it, to give it meaning, to evaluate it and to understand its meanings.

Active listening and empathy should not be confused with accepting another people’s content.

The rules of active listening are methods that allow thoughts to flow as freely as possible. The so-called “unconditional acceptance” is valid in a psychotherapeutic context, but not necessarily in everyday communication.

Inner Dialogue and Authenticity

We often talk to a very close person: ourselves.

A very important topic linked to communication topic and personal growth concerns the concept of “Basic Rogersian Distance” or Self-incongruity.

With this term we intend to summarize a critical aspect presented by Carl Rogers in his work Client-Centred Therapy, dedicated to the process of individual growth and self-development.

According to Rogers, one of the most conditioning variables in personal growth is the presence of incongruity, whose critical nodes are:

  • believing things concerning us that are not true, and
  • not realizing how we really are.

The synthesis of Rogersian thought highlights these mechanisms:

  • people are often not aware of what they are doing. A manager may think to have managed a deal well, without realising that the other party si laughing just outside the door;
  • people are often unaware of their mistakes. They blame the negative results on the forces of fate and avoid conducting an introspection that could leads them to discover that they have defects and that they must improve. This prevents them from grasping their goals and their need for personal growth;
  • it is difficult to become aware of one’s real behaviours and errors, until one seeks and accepts as many honest feedbacks as possible, while facing an authentic interlocutor who can help the person open his/her eyes by highlighting inconsistencies.

For a self-perception dystonia to emerge and not degenerate further (and in some cases it really degenerates into a deep crisis), it is necessary that the person must be able to benefit from an extremely rare yet indispensable condition: having internal or external consultants, trainers, coaches or counsellors, who know how to observe a hidden reality and are willing to deal with extreme authenticity without distortions and fears.

The consultant is an increasingly important figure. As Rogers himself observes, authenticity is the basis of the effectiveness of any helping relationship. In the ALM method authenticity is essential as an engine for development, and its benefits far outweigh its costs.

Authentic relationships are extremely rare, but we can and must make every effort to actively build them, research them and create the conditions for them to occur, both in everyday life and in business life. This means speaking clearly.

In a consulting approach, authenticity is necessary to let problems of image emerge. Authenticity is part of any relationship: there is an authenticity towards us (we must stop lying to ourselves) and an authenticity towards others (we must stop hiding behind fake social masks).

To sum up, personal efficiency and effectiveness are positively correlated to:

  1. the knowledge and awareness of one’s own identity, culture and communicative behaviour;
  2. the time and energy devoted to the active construction of an ideal image of oneself and of one’s company and the willingness and concreteness in improving oneself;
  3. one’s self-knowledge, favoured by an authentic consultancy and counselling relationship capable of bringing out distortions and inconsistencies between the person’s real situation, and his/her false opinions, beliefs and self-deceptions.

The negative factors that can affect corporate and personal efficiency and effectiveness are:

  1. poor awareness of oneself;
  2. lack of analysis and active construction of an aspirational identity (ideal self, ideal image);
  3. lack of awareness of one’s own gaps;
  4. persistence of self-deceptions that have not emerged and are not treated as such;
  5. inability or unwillingness to implement a personal growth plan, hoping that “things will work out, anyway”. If you don’t do something serious and specific, they will never be fixed.
"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:

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: