2. Communication and listening as encounter between worlds

Article translated by dott. Marco Recalenda, 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.

2.3. The relational approach. A question of voice, words, and content

During any human interaction, there are moments of rapprochement and estrangement between people. Listening, when well done, is certainly a moment of relational rapprochement.

Words take on meaning only based on an agreement between the parties, otherwise they would just be empty sounds. The theory of the Coordinated Management of Meanings[1] highlights precisely that the word with its set of shared meanings is the result of a work of coordination between the many possible meanings. For the listener, being reassured about the meaning of the primary words we are using is crucial.

If an entire discourse, for example, revolves around the theme of Corporate Training, it is not a bad idea to actively ask “What is your conception of Corporate Training?” and compare it with your own.

In this way we will know if there are any divergences of meaning (semantic divergences) that might hinder our understanding.

To judge a man, one must at least know the secret of his thinking, his misfortunes, his emotions.

 (Honoré de Balzac)

There are distances, relational distances, no less important than physical distances. Listening is the most powerful mechanism we have for reducing relational distances between human beings.

Incommunicability, on the other hand, is an enemy both of communication between people and of human mechanisms such as being friends, getting along, doing things together and having fun. It also affects relations in companies, between companies, between nations and even between whole cultures and global areas.

I give a brief initial example of good listening skills, made, not by chance, by a friend who is also a psychotherapist and counsellor, to whom I tell by phone the joy of starting this book:

  • Daniele “You know Lorenzo, it’s coming out really well, today I was in the library with all the windows open, crisp air, and I wrote really well, the book is starting to take shape, I can feel it flowing”.
  • Lorenzo: “I’m glad to hear you are so lively”.

As can be seen, the active listening of my colleague and friend Dr. Lorenzo Manfredini does not even concern himself with the content (he could have asked, for example, which chapter I was on), but “reflects” a very special kind of listening, that of my mood, perceived above all by the paralinguistic system (tone of voice, timbre, speed of speech, intonation), even more than by the words themselves (verbal component, the words I used).

Intonation is one of the ‘prosodic elements’ of language. It is composed of the tone and modulation of the voice during the articulation of a word or sentence. Prosody is the part of linguistics that studies the intonation, rhythm, duration, and accent of spoken language. Prosodic information, such as intonation, is full of meanings, for example, it tells us something about the health and fitness of the speaker, the energy in circulation, the mood. An example of augmented listening is listening to intonation:

“The rising and falling tone or the use of a particular chant are ‘paralinguistic’ elements of communication, which add to the meaning conveyed by words. This level of communication can never be eliminated from vocal communication, not even from artificially produced communication, which in fact often appears mechanical to us precisely because of its ‘flat’ intonation. Paralinguistic communication mainly conveys information about the identity of the speaker (gender, geographical origin, etc.) and about the relationships that the sender intends to establish with the recipient (play, joke, command, question, etc.)”[2]


 

And that is exactly what the friend did, connecting to the relationship of “sharing happiness” which was my primary communicative intent.

Listening to the underlying communicative intent, and not just the words, is an example of listening beyond words, and augmented perception.

This is to say that advanced active listening can enter our every moment, our every day, it requires skills, and it is not just about the words, but rather and above all about the communicative intent that a person expresses, usually doing so in a totally undeclared way.

If we had been in a project in which this transmission of messages was connected to a deadline, the question could have been about what page I was on in relation to the deadline; the communicative intent could have been about a practical need to understand if we were late, and that would have been the appropriate question, but as this was not the case, a far superior, advanced, active listening competence emerged.

“Speech belongs half to the speakerhalf to the listener.”

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne

Whenever we listen deeply, in some way, we are connecting to the inner worlds of people, we are getting closer to the ‘core’ of the individual, to their ‘moods’, their personality, their history, and not just facts and figures. Then, and only then, can we begin to grasp its infinite nuances, and begin to understand it.

2.4. Listening to the micro-signals of voice and words. From vocal stress to quality of pronunciation, to confidence and trustworthiness, to gait. Listening to the ‘whole’

Auditory listening comes through the vibrations of the vocal cords creating sounds, which we recognise as words.

When we are stressed, e.g., by telling a lie, or dealing with a subject that is overly sensitive to us, the body unconsciously activates the attack-escape system (sympathetic nervous system) – increasing the readiness of the muscles to spring into action. The vocal cords do not escape, and their vibration goes from a state of relaxation to a more tremulous voice (microtremors) which corresponds to a voice under stress.

This is to say that while we are listening, not only do ‘grammatical’ words come in, but my processing of what I hear takes place, and a form of judgement or evaluation is triggered, not only of the content (ethical or moral evaluation), but also of the speaker’s skills, or his state of stress. If an Italian person quotes a word in English, e.g., Bed & Breakfast, based on how well he pronounces even single words in English, I will understand how familiar he is with that language, how much he has studied it, and even whether he has lived there for a long time. This is augmented perception. Someone who talks about sales and uses the word Sales literally, verbatim – is telling us, unintentionally, that they have extremely poor English and probably do not have the awareness to make a big impression on someone who knows the language well.

People observe the colors of a day only at its beginnings and ends, but to me it’s quite clear that a day merges through a multitude of shades and intonations with each passing moment. A single hour can consist of thousands of different colors. Waxy yellows, cloud-spot blues. Murky darkness. In my line of work, I make it a point to notice them. 

(Markus Zusak)

If while the person is speaking, we hear a vocal tremor, we are practising advanced listening, listening to the components of vocal stress is an indicator of ongoing lies or emotional difficulties, we think the person is under stress.

Not only that, but we also listen more than words if we phone a person in the morning, and we hear a low timbre of voice, so we go as far as to ask, “oh sorry, did you just wake up?” even if the person answering the phone does not mention it at all. We pick it up from the voice, from its qualities. Our mirror neurons allow us to identify and feel what we perceive. The thought of what might be happening takes shape in our mind, based on what might have happened to us on similar occasions. This is also an advanced and active listening dynamic.

“The first step to understanding reality is to become aware of how it takes shape in our mind.”

Stefano Nasetti

But back to examples of content. If I talk about white fibres and red fibres (two different types of muscle fibres)[3],I assume that the other person understands me and has studied motor sciences or medicine or physiology.

And not only that. The quality of the exposition will tell me a lot about his cultural status, and the calmness with which he expounds will help me to understand if it is the first time or one of the many he talks about, and therefore if he is an expert in the field or not (and this without the person having either said or officially announced it).

And always looking at the ‘unspoken’, it is enough to see a person enter a bar or walk down the street and deduce from the type of walk, posture and body size and their proportions, a lot of data with respect to age, state of health, doing or not doing sports, and a lot of other information.

2.5. Meeting between worlds and personal ‘spheres

Really important encounters are planned by the souls long before the bodies see each other.

(Paulo Coelho)

Cultural and professional backgrounds, combined with our personal history, our state of mind, our values, make us unique “systems”.

Everyone is unique, a ‘sphere’ of meanings, energies, dreams, ambitions, tangible cells, and intangible thoughts.

Listening means getting closer to that sphere. Deep listening means entering that sphere.

The more you activate empathy, the more you enter the “core” of the person.

Each person can be likened metaphorically to an energy field, a field of light, which at some time meets other energy fields, other fields of light, finding or not finding possibilities for exchange, osmosis, transmission of signals, or remaining distant, impermeable.

 Eventually soulmates meet, for they have the same hiding place.

(Robert Brault)

If I assume that we will magically understand each other, I will not be doing quality listening. Listening means being ready to approach worlds we do not know, and not just letting words in through our ears.

We find ourselves in a world in which everyone is within their own ‘sphere’ – a set of thoughts, signals, words, values, – together referred to in the HPM method as the ‘Semiosphere’. Each of us lives in a ‘world’, in a sphere of words, concepts, ideologies and beliefs about the world and ourselves. Communication poses the challenge of passing messages between people from different backgrounds. Listening must always consider the possibility that the other person has a different culture from ours, even if it is only slightly different, which would imply the need to listen without preconceptions. Even the difference between a humanistic and a technical-engineering education can create a degree of incommunicability. Not understanding each other is more frequent than we think.

Every day we go around in a crowd, we run here and there, we almost touch each other but, there is truly little contact. All those missed encounters. All those missed opportunities. It is disturbing when you think about it. Maybe it is better not to think about it at all.

(Jonathan Coe)

Every professional or family background offers you a world of words that you use daily, until those words become your world. This world becomes your daily sphere, your sphere of words, your sphere of relationships, your sphere of high or low, strong, or weak energies.

At some moment, these spheres have occasion for contact, but the different backgrounds make understanding not automatic or obvious.

When this moment of contact occurs, the two ‘spheres’ can repel each other ‘by the skin’, like two balls of equal magnetic charge repel each other.

Attraction or repulsion occurs when archaic elements of the brain (archipallium) give us signals of displeasure or pleasantness, towards a face or smells that offer us signals of danger, or with signals that also come from body language, posture, smiles and facial expressions. If the signals are negative, they alert our alarm systems, they are certainly not conducive to listening, but if we know that they are being activated, we can go beyond those signals, listen, and perceive with greater awareness what is happening inside us.

Listening to a person who disturbs us is something we avoid as much as possible and reduce to the bare minimum, and we notice this even between people who love each other but have had a fight. There is no less talking, there is less listening.

Listening therefore means much more than hearing words, but observing movement, the body, gestures, facial expressions, objects, moods.

Miraculously (but it is not a miracle, but the effect of well analysable human mechanisms) the opposite can also happen, a magnetic-like attraction, a human contact where we can find an understanding with someone, a way to share something between our spheres of meaning. And almost always, in this case, listening will become an extremely pleasant process.

I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter.

(Winston Churchill)

[1] Pearce, W. B.; Pearce, K. “Extending the Theory of the Coordinated Management of Meaning (“CMM”) Through a Community Dialogue Process” . Communication Theory. 10: 2000.

Pearce, W. Barnett, Vernon E. Cronen, and Linda M. Harris. “Methodological considerations in building human communication theory.” Human communication theory: Comparative essays (1982): 1-41.

[2] Voce Intonazione, da Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation.

[3] Fibre muscolari a contrazione lenta o veloce  – Le fibre muscolari striate sono classificate in fibre a contrazione lenta (I tipo) e veloce (II tipo). Le fibre di I tipo sono responsabili del tono muscolare; esse presentano un colore più scuro e vengono chiamate anche fibre rosse, per la ricchezza di mioglobina, si contraggono più lentamente e hanno una resistenza maggiore all’esaurimento (sono i muscoli che prevalgono ad esempio in un maratoneta); quelle di II tipo, invece, sono più chiare (chiamate quindi fibre bianche), producono scatti potenti ed esauriscono l’energia rapidamente (sono la tipologia muscolare che coltiva un sollevatore di pesi, un artista marziale, o un pugile, ad esempio). La maggior parte dei muscoli scheletrici è composta da fibre di entrambi i tipi.

Le fibre di cui disponiamo non sono solo geneticamente determinate, ma si modificano con l’allenamento e in base al tipo specifico di allenamento.

Il potenziamento dell’uno o dell’altro tipo di fibre muscolari attraverso uno specifico allenamento permette lo sviluppo di qualità fisiche come la resistenza, l’elasticità muscolare, la velocità. In altre parole, è possibile determinare le tipologie di muscoli che vogliamo avere e le loro qualità principali.

Elaborato con modifiche da Microsoft ® Encarta ®. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation.

Source:

Article translated by dott. Marco Recalenda, 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:
Sito Studio Trevisani Formazione Coaching Consulenza (Italian & English)
Sito Daniele Trevisani (Italian)
Website Dr. Daniele Trevisani (English)
Comunicazione Aziendale
Comunicazione Interculturale
Medialab Research
Intercultural Negotiation (English)
Operational Negotiation (English)
Linkedin Profile Dr. Daniele Trevisani

Other available online resources
Pubblicazioni e libri dott. Daniele Trevisani (Books published)
Rivista online gratuita di Comunicazione, Potenziale Umano e Management
Iscrizione gratuita al Blog Studiotrevisani.it tramite Email
Canale YouTube

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

Active and Verbal active listening techniques

Article translated by dott. Marco Recalenda, CIELS Advanced Degree in Strategic Communication, 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.

1.1. Active listening techniques

Active listening relates to paralinguistic and non-verbal communication and includes in particular:

  • Verbal active listening techniques;
  • Paralinguistic active listening techniques;
  • Non-verbal active listening techniques.

1.2.     Verbal active listening techniques

It involves words that convey attention and understanding.

  • Open questions: who, where, when, how, why, with whom, in what way, at what time, for how long, what else… and other questions that allow the speech to be expanded and clarified.
  • Closed or clarifying questions: verification of content’s parts by questions requiring a “Yes/No” answer or other specific categories such as “a lot/ a little”, “before/after” and others of this kind.
  • Mirror technique (content’s reflection): repetition of sentences or parts of sentences said by the other party, without changes and alterations. The “mirror” technique comes from the empathic listening methodologies used in the Rogersian1 therapeutic interview. It is a technique of psychotherapeutic origin, which allows the “client” to bring out the contents expressed by them and in which they reflect themselves.
  • Paraphrase: use of “as if”. Search for understanding of what has been said, with the use of metaphors or examples that try to assess whether one has really understood the deep meaning of what the other party is saying.
  • Historical synthesis: repetition of what has been said, in the form of a summary of the “story’s” highlights.

Verbal encouragement: e.g., ‘good’, ‘interesting’, ‘yes’, ‘ok’.

[1] Rogers, Carl R. (1961). On becoming a Person. Boston, Houghton Mifflin.

Rogers, Carl R. (1951). Client-Centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications, and Theory. Boston, Houghton Mifflin.

Article translated by dott. Marco Recalenda, CIELS Advanced Degree in Strategic Communication, 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.

Other online material available in these sites:
Sito Studio Trevisani Formazione Coaching Consulenza (Italian & English)
Sito Daniele Trevisani (Italian)
Website Dr. Daniele Trevisani (English)
Comunicazione Aziendale
Comunicazione Interculturale
Medialab Research
Intercultural Negotiation (English)
Operational Negotiation (English)
Linkedin Profile Dr. Daniele Trevisani
Other available online resources
Pubblicazioni e libri dott. Daniele Trevisani (Books published)
Rivista online gratuita di Comunicazione, Potenziale Umano e Management
Iscrizione gratuita al Blog Studiotrevisani.it tramite Email
Canale YouTube
CIELS Institutional Website: https://www.ciels.it/

The four great relational distances

Article translated by dott. Marco Recalenda, CIELS Advanced Degree in Strategic Communication (“Laurea Magistrale in Comunicazione Strategica”), extracted with the author’s permission from the book “Let’s be clear” (original title: “Parliamoci chiaro”), written by Daniele Trevisani, published by Franco Angeli, Milan.

1.1.             The four great relational distances

Distance between people is a physical fact, but physicality is nothing compared to psychological distance. The Four Distances Model examines the main factors that create relational distance, grouping them into four large classes, which are useful for any purpose, both in building relationships but also in identifying existing incommunicability.

These large classes are:

1. distances and differences in roles and identities between communicators, including differences in personality or state of mind;

2. distances and differences in communication codes and styles;

3. distances and differences in values, attitudes and beliefs held;

4. distances and differences in various types of personal experience, both physical and emotional.

Just one of these variables is enough to create incommunicability. The combination of these is even more difficult to manage, because it can create strong relational distance.

Relational distance is a real fact. We can be very close to a person (e.g. in a lift, or at a traffic light) and be completely disinterested in that person’s life, and he/she in ours. That person will be “distant” to us.

Everyone will go their own way, everyone in their own life.

It also happens in the streets. We pass by a person on a pavement while walking, or in a lift. A fleeting flash of physical closeness, but no real relational glue, rather the frost. Often not even a glance.

You may live in a building with dozens of families and not have gone beyond ‘good morning’ with some of them, and with some not even that. In other situations, there are people with whom you feel you can tell them everything about yourself, or you make yourself totally available for a deep, true, interested listening.

At what distance are we then with the people we care about? And at what relational distance are we with the people we have to work with or want to work with, be it for years or for a single project lasting a few hours?

Even when a project is single and limited in time, the phenomenon of team communication inevitably arises. In this team there will be diversity, there will be people who have to work side by side, people from different professional backgrounds, different cultures, different ideologies, communication codes that are only partly shared, and the risk of failure and conflict – if not anticipated – becomes very high.


Relational friction is a fact, even in engaged couples, married couples, friends, colleagues, and between children and parents, and it increases as the distance increases. It is this friction which, taken to the nth degree, has generated disasters, struggles, wars and devastation throughout history.

If recognised early, however, it can be managed, and human relationships can take a completely different turn, moving towards Constructive Communication, which develops projects, ideas and value. They can also generate Positive Communication, relationally nurturing, warm, welcoming, emotionally clean and enriching. And at the same time, under these conditions, listening becomes a pleasure, not an almost impossible task.

Sometimes we experience relationships that are only apparently ones of psychological closeness, but which in reality demonstrate all their falseness as soon as a critical incident brings to light the real sidereal distance of values in human relationships.

This distance may be largely unconscious: we may believe we are close and yet be very far away. A false indicator of closeness is, for example, confidence, the elimination of the ‘courtesy form’ or other kinds of linguistic distancing.

We all know, however, how one can converse amiably with someone who seems to be a friend and in reality is not.

Even marriages and friendships experience moments of apparent distance or apparent remoteness, people “approach” and “move away” relationally, like comets, in trajectories that are sometimes very predictable, sometimes people appear in our lives like bright meteors in the sky and then disappear.

So let us make it clear that distance is not just a matter of appearance but something deeper.

Relational distance exists, it creates incommunicability and, with it taking place, no project can really go the distance.

Principle 1 – The elements that affect effective communication and incommunicability

Communication becomes difficult when:

1. people do not accept each other’s roles in communication, there is a lack of acceptance in the mutual identities that people want to assume, parties do not recognise and legitimise each other as accepted counterparts;

2. distances in communication codes and styles are wide, making it technically difficult or impossible to understand the meanings of the communication itself. Languages are poorly understood, there are unfamiliar terms, and meanings are not shared;

3. there are value divergences, attitudes and values, both superficial and in depth, and the degree of difference (how much difference) is amplified the more the communication touches on the core values of one or more communicators, to the point where the other’s position is perceived as inconceivable and contrary to one’s own values;

4. the parties are characterised by different types of personal experience, both physical and emotional, with increasing incommunicability as this diversity increases, and do not have common physical or emotional experiences that could act as facilitators.

Communication becomes positive and effective the more

1. people accept each other’s roles in communication, acceptance is created in the mutual identities people give each other (“I accept your role as you present it to me”), the parties recognise and legitimise each other as worthy of a fruitful relationship;

2. distances in communication codes and styles are reduced or are progressively reduced, making it technically easier to understand meanings, based on shared signs, comprehensible languages, and shared meanings;

3. there are few differences in values, or these are only superficial, while deep values are shared.

4. parties are characterised by a certain degree of ‘Common Ground’ in personal experience, both physical and emotional, and this increases through shared experiences, making communication more positive and effective.

It is quite understandable and natural that as the psychological distance between people increases, incommunicability increases, but becoming aware of this is not enough.

It is necessary to understand where to work on incommunicability. So what variables should be used? How can the real distance that exists at a certain moment be understood? How can it be reduced?

In what areas is it important to work on the Four Distances? This theme deserves to be explored in greater depth.

Article translated by dott. Marco Recalenda, CIELS Advanced Degree in Strategic Communication (“Laurea Magistrale in Comunicazione Strategica”), extracted with the author’s permission from the book “Let’s be clear” (original title: “Parliamoci chiaro”), written by Daniele Trevisani, published by Franco Angeli, Milan.

Other online material available in these sites:
Sito Studio Trevisani Formazione Coaching Consulenza (Italian & English)
Sito Daniele Trevisani (Italian)
Website Dr. Daniele Trevisani (English)
Comunicazione Aziendale
Comunicazione Interculturale
Medialab Research
Intercultural Negotiation (English)
Operational Negotiation (English)
Linkedin Profile Dr. Daniele Trevisani
Other available online resources
Pubblicazioni e libri dott. Daniele Trevisani (Books published)
Rivista online gratuita di Comunicazione, Potenziale Umano e Management
Iscrizione gratuita al Blog Studiotrevisani.it tramite Email
Canale YouTube
CIELS Institutional Website: https://www.ciels.it/