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/

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/

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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