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.

Fonte:

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

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/

Positive and destructive elements of empathy

Negoziazione interculturale. Comunicare oltre le barriere culturali. Dalle relazioni interne sino alle trattative internazionali

©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 “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.

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

Fostering empathyDestroying empathy
CuriosityDisinterest
Real listening participation, without fictionPretending a listening role only for professional duty
Re-formulation of contentsJudgement on contents, comments
Plural approaches to question (open, close, clarifying, focusing, and generalizing questions)Monotonous questions
Focus on emotional experienceExclusive focus on facts
Non-verbal signals of attentionBody language expressing disinterest or boredom
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

Listening communication, and quality of listening, require a clear separation between comprehension activities (input communication) and direct expression activities (output communication).

During the listening phases necessarily:

  • do not interrupt while other persons are talking;
  • do not judge them prematurely;
  • do not express judgements that could block their expressive flow;
  • 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;
  • do not correct the other person while he/she is stating something, even when you disagree, keep listening;
  • do not try to overpower her/him;
  • do not try to dominate her/him;
  • do not try to teach or impart truths; restrain the temptation to interfere with the expression flow and correct something assumed as incorrect;
  • do not speak about ourselves;
  • 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.

©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 “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.

Source:

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

Other online material available in these sites:

Other available online resources

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