Articolo redatto a cura di Dott.ssa Giada Bonsi, CIELS Padova
Ch. 8 – Empathy and empathic listening techniques
Listening is one of the most critical skills in negotiation and selling. The classic stereotype of the seller intent on “talking over the other”, on “winning the conversation”, on always having the last word, is wrong.
The empathic approach has the opposite idea: listening deeply to understand the mental map of our interlocutor, his belief system, and finding the psychological spaces to insert a proposal.
In the ALM method we distinguish some main types of empathy:
Based on observation angles:
Behavioural empathy: understanding behaviours and their causes, understanding the why of the behaviour and the chains of related behaviours.
Emotional empathy: being able to perceive the emotions experienced by others, understanding what emotions the subject feels (which emotion is in the circle), of what intensity, what emotional mix the interlocutor experiences, how emotions are associated with people, objects, facts, internal or external situations experienced by the other.
Relational empathy: understanding the map of the subject’s relationships and their affective values, understanding with whom the subject relates voluntarily or by obligation, with whom he has to relate in order to make decisions, work or live, what is his map of “significant others”, of referents, of interlocutors, of “relevant others” and influencers who affect his decisions, with whom he gets along and who does not, who affects his professional (and in some cases personal) life.
Cognitive empathy (or of the cognitive prototypes): understanding the cognitive prototypes active at a given moment in time, the beliefs, values, ideologies, mental structures that the subject possesses and to which he anchors.
On the intercultural level, as we have noted, even relatively simple and taken-for-granted concepts (eg: “home”, “work”, “friendship”) are misunderstood. It is therefore advisable to carry out activities of setting the semantic boundaries (setting the meanings) that allow to specify the language. Building the common linguistic basis requires clarification on several levels. Each keyword, each word or concept in general, can be read through at least four descriptive filters. Let’s create an example on the Italian word “gondola”.
The possible attributes are:
Perceptive: it is long and narrow:
Functional: used to transport tourists;
Associatives: it makes me think of Venice;
Social-Symbolic: recalls a romantic experience, for classy people;
Encyclopedic: it is made of wood, it has been used since the year ….., it is built like this ….
The same problem occurs on the business level. Let’s imagine that we are carrying out a “marketing consultancy” on behalf of an Indian, Korean or Chinese client. We should first compare the two mental images of the word “marketing”, understand which of the two different concepts of marketing the customer is thinking about. For example:
Concept A (marketing as an operational tool). Analysis:
Concept B (marketing as a strategic tool). Analysis
Perceptual: marketing is equivalent to advertising and promotion, sales, advertising
Perceptual: Marketing is the search for new or better products to satisfy human needs
Functional: used to sell more
Functional: used to better design products and services
Associative: it is an instrument of capitalism and consumerism
Associative: it is a research tool
Socio-Symbolic: it is for advanced, large, technological or very managerial companies
Socio-Symbolic: it requires respect for the customer and the will to satisfy him, it can be used by anyone
Encyclopedic: deals with concepts such as the marketing mix, customer satisfaction, promotion
Encyclopedic: deals with concepts such as marketing mix, customer satisfaction, promotion, but above all market research, creativity, customer orientation
Starting an intercultural negotiation means first of all clarifying semantic concepts, the latent meanings of words, mental associations, and not taking them for granted. Through associative techniques, it is also possible to search for the “stereotypes” that people possess with respect to the concepts dealt with.
For example, dealing with the training of a salesperson means first of all clarifying what the mental image of our interlocutor is, understanding what is behind the word “salesman”.
Tab. 1 – Different conception of two sales cultures: the seller …
– He has to talk a lot – He has to be a bit stupid and work hard, no matter he is a graduate he doesn’t have to do strategy, we make the strategy – He have to be around all day – He has to bring us results
– He has to listen a lot he has to be intelligent and creative – He has to be a strategist of his territory, respecting the guidelines – He has to act with targeted appointments – We have to put him in a position to give the best results
Without clarifying these points, any action risks being based on wrong and misunderstood concepts.
A seduction not at all sexual, but in fact comparable to courtship: the proposal must contain “appeal“, must respond to the impulses and needs of the interlocutor. A forced proposal is not negotiation in the strict sense but imposition. A poorly digested condition, moreover, lends itself much more to being refused a posteriori, disregarded, or not applied.
For thousands of years, theorists of each discipline have encouraged people to adapt their art to the different situations in which they will have to operate, recognizing the need to calibrate the strategy towards the interlocutor, creating a communication centered on the recipients. Aristotle, in Rhetoric, deals with public seduction and persuasion. He invites the politician to dynamically use ethos (credibility), logos (dialectical art) and pathos (ability to arouse emotions), centering the audience in being more intimate than him.
There is a seduction component in every negotiation In the Kamasutra of Vatsyayana – a classic Indian treatise on seduction – a sequence of different types of bite is listed, designed to cause pleasure: the hidden bite, the swollen bite, the point, the line of points, the coral and the jewel, the of jewels, the unbroken cloud, and finally the bite of the wild boar. The good seducer will have to adapt the type of bite to the situation. Western managers often use the “boar bite” (whatever action it is) a priori, perhaps receiving sound slaps in response, where perhaps the “hidden bite” would have given the desired effects. We are using a joking metaphor to express a message that is nevertheless strong: the communication strategy must take into account the cultural traits of the counterpart.
Let’s see an example of a micro-conversation between the Italian area manager and a possible Russian importer:
Area Manager: What guarantees can you give us?
Importer: What guarantees do you need?
Area Manager: Well, you need to learn how to sell our products, however don’t worry because we will give you courses, if you can’t pay them we discount them from commissions.
The Russian interlocutor perceives a latent message (“you are incapable”, “you are poor”, “you need”) linked to the course offer. The sentence touches the interlocutor’s entire cultic system, stirs a wounded “Russian pride” and the memories of suffering of an entire people. The Italian area manager has been able to destroy the corporate ethos in a few moves (giving the image of a company completely unprepared to negotiate with foreign interlocutors), using a dialectic based on “a priori” conflict (humiliate them), thus arousing emotions of revenge and revenge (at a minimum) in the interlocutor. A strategy of total ineffectiveness, based on wrong assumptions.
The offer of a course, presented in this way, does not create added value and aims solely at the disqualification of the interlocutor. Both Aristotle and Vatsyayana would have rejected this area manager. In this micro-negotiation there have been several “judgment biases” or errors of judgment, and neither of them have achieved any results. As research on the accuracy of intercultural assessments shows, the error of judgment (misunderstanding who you are dealing with, or badly decoding a message) – an error already present at an intra-cultural level – is enhanced by cultural distances, and it is one of the most destructive factors in negotiation.
To overcome the judgment biases it is necessary to take action, to prepare. Intercultural communication requires commitment, at the level of:
understanding of the cultural system with which one interacts;
knowledge of the underlying values and beliefs of the interlocutor;
social identification: what status does the interlocutor have in his membership system;
methods of non-verbal communication;
analysis and resolution of conflicts. Every intercultural negotiator should have strong expertise on these matters in their curriculum.
Principle 9 – Training in intercultural communication
The success of negotiation communication depends on:
from the depth of communication training;
the ability to put into practice communicative skills of trans-cultural value;
the ability to identify communicative characteristics and specific cultural traits of the interlocutor to pay attention to.