Empatic Listening and Communication

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“, Franco Angeli Edizioni, 2019”), written by Daniele Trevisani, published by Franco Angeli, Milan.

Picture. 2 – Types of empathy in the ALM method

Copyright Model Daniele Trevisani http://www.danieletrevisani.it

1.1.             Positive and destructive elements of empathy

It is astonishing how elements that seem insoluble become soluble when someone listens, how confusions that seem irremediable turn into relatively clear flowing streams when one is heard.

Carl Rogers

Empathy is either destroyed or fostered by specific communicative behaviours and attitudes.

Fostering empathyDestroying empathy
Curiosity, passion, motivation to listenDisinterest, listening for duty; lack of motivation
Real listening participation, without fictionPretending a listening role only for professional duty
Acting as a “discoverer”, like a truffle or gemstones hunter. Let’s see what’s going to happen today!Bureaucratic plastered approach. Even today, not today, another meeting, that is so boring
Re-formulation of contents
Recap – re-capitulate “histories” and “topics”
Judgement on contents, comments Endless flow without the security to understand the topic or the sense of the conversation
Plural approaches to question (open, close, clarifying, focusing, and generalizing questions) Flexible questions related to the variation of a session or its contextMonotonous questions, statical questions, questions that are too anchored to a dogmatic scheme or school
Focus on emotional experience, emotional listeningExclusive focus on facts
Verbal or non-verbal signals of attention, “phatic” signals (contact signals) es, yeah, well, ok, I see your point…Body language expressing disinterest, apathy, boredom, or desire to be somewhere else…
Paralinguistic signals of attention, encouragement to express oneself, “phatic” signals (signals expressing participation and attention)Poor evidence of interest and concern to the flow of thought. Lack or scarcity of ‘phatic’ signals and mental contact.

“Empathy between people is like water in the desert: you rarely encounter it, but when you do, it calms you down and regenerates you.”

Emanuela Breda

1.4 “Being there” in relationship: separating listening from “expression” activities and generating the “empathic flow”.

Few delights can equal the presence of one whom we trust utterly.

 (George MacDonald)

In empathy, ‘being there’ is important. To ‘be there’, it is essential not to confuse between listening and expression. Listening communication, and the quality of listening, includes the need to perform a clear separation on a mental level, the activities of paying attention to the communication of others, understanding it (incoming communication) from the activities of expressing our messages (outgoing communication).

We are referring to a ‘flow’, an empathic one, a two-way flow between two people during an empathic communication. There is something magical about this kind of flow sometimes. To be clear, the content of this flow in terms of words, sentences, facial expressions and any other ‘communicative content’ is expressed by the speaker, but the listener expresses an equally powerful, even more powerful flow, the flow of attention and mental presence. Two opening flows of acceptance, which create a unique and special moment of human sharing. If you happen to hear yourself say “I have never felt as much understanding as in this conversation, thank you very much” you probably performed a high empathy rate.

Picture 9 – Separation of the expression flow from empathic flow

When we know how to separate these two flows properly, first on a mental level, then on a physical and behavioural level, we will know how to give presence, avoiding intruding on the empathic flow with inappropriate communications. When it is ‘our turn’, we will always be empathic, ‘connected’ and relevant.

People also leave presence in a place even when they are no longer there.

(Andy Goldsworthy)

1.5 Ten rules to quality empathic listening. Ten rules always to apply.

Most quarrels amplify a misunderstanding.

 (Andre Gide)

During the listening phases necessarily:

  1. do not interrupt while other persons are talking;
  2. do not judge them prematurely; do not express judgements that could block their expressive flow;
  3. summarize what you understood (so, if I understood well, it happened that…), re-formulate critical points (ok, he doesn’t answer to the phone, and you feel really bad, I see), to paraphrase (so, as I understood, is it…?)
  4. do not get distracted, do not think about anything else, do nothing else but listening (except for taking notes if necessary), use your thoughts to listen, do not wander;
  5. do not correct the other person while he/she is stating something, even when you disagree, keep listening;
  6. do not try to overpower her/him;
  7. do not try to dominate her/him;
  8. do not try to teach or impart truths; restrain the temptation to interfere with the expression flow and correct something assumed as incorrect;
  9. do not speak about ourselves;
  10. show interest and participation through verbal signals and body language;

Particularly interesting attitudes may be:

  • genuine interest and curiosity towards the other: the desire to know and explore another one’s mind; activating human and professional curiosity;
  • inner silence: creating a state of emotional stillness (free from negative emotions and prejudices), in order to listen and respect the other person’s rhythms;
  • mentally preparing oneself for the ‘whole’: being able to support even ‘heavy’ psychic material (fears, traumas, dramas, personal tragedies, dreams, disturbed states of mind) that the other person expresses, or when they emerge in the process, being able to explore them while keeping the ‘focus’ on mental and emotional balance and not overwhelmed by what is being heard (technique of Controlled Emotional Distancing – CED).

It is remarkable quoting Carl Rogers, psychologist, and founder of Counseling, the person that most of all has influenced the same concept of empathy:

“Our first reaction to most of the statements which we hear from other people is an immediate evaluation, or judgment, rather than an understanding of it. When someone expresses some feeling or attitude or belief, our tendency is, almost immediately, to feel “That’s right”; or “That’s stupid”; “That’s abnormal”; “That’s unreasonable”; “That’s incorrect”; “That’s not nice”. I believe this is because understanding is risky. If I let myself really understand another person, I might be changed by that understanding.”

Carl Rogers

“What the statement means to him” is the true meaning of any empathy operation, understanding the emotional connection, the motive seen from within. It is a technique. Then it matters little whether that technique is applied to a criminal to understand their next gestures and moves, or to a person suffering from anxiety, or to help a young person find his way in the future, a sportsman wins his next race, or a team in which we are trying to produce the state of ‘flow for maximum performance.

Active Listening and Empathy

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, Franco Angeli Edizioni, 2019”), written by Daniele Trevisani, published by Franco Angeli, Milan.


-Dott. Trevisani D., Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace, Franco Angeli Edizioni, 2019

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

Riepilogo didattico Lezione 5 Prof Daniele Trevisani


Presso Campus Ciels Padova, Laurea Magistrale in Comunicazione Strategica LM-94

Corso di Negoziazione, vedi Trevisani Daniele – Campus Ciels

Parole chiave della lezione

  • Emozioni
  • Modello dei quattro livelli di empatia
  • Empatia comportamentale
  • Empatia emozionale
  • Empatia cognitiva
  • World Economic Forum
  • Problem solving
  • Pensiero critico
  • Creatività
  • People management
  • Capacità di coordinamento
  • Intelligenza emotiva
  • Capacità di giudizio e decisione
  • Orientamento al servizio
  • Capacità di negoziazione
  • Flessibilità cognitiva
  • Evocazioni semantiche
  • Topic shifting
  • Ruota delle emozioni di Plutchik
  • Leadership emozionale
  • Metacomunicazione
  • Goal setting
  • Life plan
  • Domande aperte
  • Domande chiuse

Concetti fondamentali trattati

  1. Il concetto di leadership emozionale, nell’ambito della gestione delle emozioni durante la comunicazione, è la capacità di dirigere le emozioni e portarle dove si vuole.
  2. Riconoscere le evocazioni semantiche ovvero i richiami a mondi percettivi che provengono da gesti o parole durante la comunicazione.
  3. Individuazione delle competenze più richieste nell’ambito lavorativo secondo il World Economic Forum: “problem solving“; pensiero critico che permetta di rivisitare un problema; creatività; “people management“, ovvero gestire il flusso di lavoro; capacità di coordinamento; intelligenza emotiva, cogliere quale sia il nostro stato emotivo in una data situazione; capacità di giudizio e decisione; orientamento al servizio, cioè la creazione del valore; capacità di negoziazione; flessibilità cognitiva capacità di possedere diversi punti di vista.
  4. Il modello dei quattro livelli di empatia (4LE): l’empatia cognitiva, in base a come abbiamo affrontato la comunicazione; emozionale, cosa si è provato durante lo svolgimento della comunicazione; comportamentale, comprendere gesti e atteggiamenti altri; relazionale, in base alle persone e al contesto con cui relazioniamo.
  5. La ruota delle emozioni, sviluppata dallo psicologo Robert Plutchik, è un modello che rappresenta l’evoluzione delle emozioni; il modello si propone come tentativo di etichettare le emozioni: più sono intense più si avvicineranno al centro della ruota e viceversa.
  6. La rappresentazione delle connessioni primarie, secondarie e terziarie tra emozioni mostra come ognuna derivi dalla somma di altre due emozioni correlate.
  7. Il concetto di metacomunicazione, spiegare cioè il proprio codice comunicativo nel momento in cui la persona che abbiamo di fronte non ne sia a conoscenza perché di cultura differente o abituata a comunicare diversamente.
  8. La distinzione tra domande chiuse e domande aperte: le prime prevedono una risposta finita e schematica, le seconde invece permettono risposte più ampie e personalizzate.
  9. L’importanza della redazione di un “life plan“, dove fissare gli obiettivi (goal setting) che si desidera raggiungere in un dato periodo di tempo (in questo caso cinque anni).

Sintesi del mio apprendimento:

Ho capito che è molto importante revisionare il proprio lavoro soprattutto da segretario organizzativo in quanto se il lavoro non è fatto bene dal traduttore o dallo scrittore, la responsalità è di chi non ha ben revisionato il lavoro.

Ho imparato a concludere le mie presentazioni con una domanda rivolta al pubblico per poter meglio catturarne l’attenzione.

Ho riflettuto sull’importanza del goal setting e sul metodo utilizzato per individuare i nostri principali obiettivi.


-Dott. Trevisani D., Negoziazione InterculturaleComunicazione oltre le barriere culturali. Dalle relazioni interne sino alle trattative internazionali, Franco Angeli Edizioni, 2016.

-Dott. Trevisani D., Parliamoci Chiaro: il modello delle quattro distanze per una comunicazione efficace e costruttiva, Gribaudo, 2019

-Dott. Trevisani D., Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace, Franco Angeli Edizioni, 2019

-Dott. ssa Brusamento Spinelli E., Appunti di Negoziazione degli ostaggi, lezione 5 di Prof. Trevisani D. 25/03/2021

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