When a sunrise or sunset no longer gives us excitement,
means that the soul is sick.
Empathy is defined in a thousand different ways.
For our purpose, it is sufficient to focus, here and now, on the fact that empathy is a “state of mind”, a state of openness to listening, of predisposition to grasp the data and emotions that come from the other person, to “feel” them, coming to understand a situation with identification, to be aware of what lives, with the eyes and the heart of the person who is telling us. We will go into this concept in more detail later. We have already said it, but empathy, however deep, is not equivalent to sympathy.
Those who practice empathic listening must be very good at “grasping” and “feeling” but they must absolutely not fall into the trap of “confusing their own self with that of the other”. So, let’s stay for now on a technical aspect: the decomposition of listening into data and emotions. It is fundamental to distinguish “active listening”, of data, from listening to emotions. Listening to data and listening to emotions are two different processes.
Sometimes co-present, and often they become two “tasks” or tasks that travel in parallel. But conceptually they are different.
We always have “the whole” available to us while we listen, it is up to us to be able to grasp, to be able to distinguish, to be able to “appreciate” and be sensitive to even the most subtle nuances of the soul and emotion.
The two layers of listening can be seen as two rivers traveling parallel to each other. Two streams of information, rather than water, that we need to perceive, simultaneously.
It is true that even an emotion is a form of “data”, but we must note, of course, that it is one thing to deal with qualitative data such as feeling pleasure, or being proud, or feeling sad or depressed, and another thing to note down information such as “London“, “Milan“, “50 km“, “10 kg”, “plane“, “train“, “100 Euro“, and other more tangible quantitative or qualitative information. We can say that scientifically we have a “data-point” (data point, certain information) every time we manage to extract a verifiable proposition.
The statement “Before 5 p.m. David made a sale and was overjoyed” contains four data points.
Listening closely resembles the process of “mining and separating” as it occurs in a deposit. Extracting material and separating it into stones on one side, and mud on the other. In listening, the materials are almost always joined, almost glued together, but we can learn to separate them. In the example written below it will be quite easy to do this.
When we move on to video excerpts, or real-time human interactions, we have to get even better at it, because emotions can be “hidden” behind micro-expressions, small involuntary facial cues, or can instead become very manifest and verbalized.
When we listen, we can pay attention to one, the other, or both. Being able to grasp both is surely better. Behind listening to emotions there is a vision of man as a creature that “feels” and not just as a creature that “reasons.”
When dealing with people, remember that we are not dealing with people with logic.
We are dealing with creatures with emotions.
It may seem strange to underestimate the logical part of the human being, but we must realize that, according to neuroscience, only 2% of the mental calculation capabilities are available for conscious and rational reasoning, and the rest is divided between data necessary to run the “biological machine” heart, lungs, breathing, and millions of processes, and subconscious data, on which emotions are grafted, whether we want them to or not. Remember that even an emotion is to some extent a data, but it goes without saying that it is one thing to ask active questions starting from the sentence “I bought 4 kilos of fish” and another to do it to deepen the sentence “in this period I feel full of hope but also of remorse“.
Emotions are expressed both with words, but much more so through facial microexpressions, body signals, and voice state (paralinguistics), than through the verbal component.
Words alone do not convey emotion if they are not accompanied by an appropriate context. The way they are said, much more so. But they are not usually “said.” They simply manifest themselves in non-verbal behavior, in facial expressions. And even if not said, they need to be “heard.”
The most important thing in communication is
Listen to what isn’t being said.
(Peter F. Drucker)
Listening to data or listening to emotions qualifies the difference between data-centered informational listening and psychologically oriented listening. Listening to data is not the same as picking up emotional states. In fact, we can apply psychological listening or technical-informational listening. An advanced negotiator and a high-level salesperson will be able to apply the correct level of listening, or both, depending on the situation, without entering into a predetermined, stereotypical, rigid listening state.
This is also true for a parent who wants to listen to a child about how they are doing in school, fixating on grades and data as if filling out an Excel spreadsheet, or trying to understand moods and relationships.
Learning to listen well is possible, with care, with practice, with passion and willingness, making mistakes, and always starting over.
Always be like the sea, which breaks against the rocks and always finds the strength to try again.
Let’s continue talking about emotion management, this time by focusing on emotional dragging and on those techniques used to reduce emotional stress in negotiations.
The Risk of Emotional Dragging during Negotiations
By emotional dragging we mean a situation in which an emotion, apparently well managed and removed, reappears in other forms in subsequent moments and negatively affects the outcome of a negotiation.
This can happen (1) within the same negotiation session, affecting subjects other than those who have generated a negative emotional impact, but also (2) between different sessions, carrying those negative states from one meeting to another.
The intra-session dragging occurs more frequently than it is thought on a conscious level. A classic case is that of withheld anger towards one of the interlocutors, which is then projected towards another interlocutor present, in a modified, attenuated or strengthened form. Let’s look at the following case, an uncensored original transcript about the emotional experience of a negotiation meeting:
We had been at the table for about twenty minutes and we had just gotten to the heart of the matter. After various pleasantries (chat about the weather, about the coffee from the machine, etc.) we began to discuss the merits and here he comes, he sat down, he remained silent for a little bit, but then he started talking about atomic bullshits. I asked if I could have the pleasure of knowing his role in the project, and he said that he had a role in all projects, and he always wanted to see who entered and left his company. Concerning the project, he said that he had nothing to do with it, but he was supervising it a little. Basically, he came to say that he “kept his boys at bay”, so that they did not mess things up badly. I’ll put it another way: he had come to mark his territory like a dog pissing on trees to say that that tree belonged to him. Practically, he entered the meeting and pissed on those present, on his collaborators and on outsiders, me included, to make clear that this was his territory. I had just entered, I didn’t know anyone, I was an outsider, and at first, I was disappointed. Then I thought that I had already seen a lot of assholes like these around the companies, and I shouldn’t get too caught up, I had to go straight on my way, which was to bring home the signed contract and nothing more. if I had met him on the street, I would have hit him with the car, but not there, otherwise I would have ruined everything.
I kept letting him piss on my head for a while, but then, at some point, I contradicted him not in a strong way, but vaguely, just to make him understand that I was an expert and that he could not say whatever he wanted about certain topics without knowing a shit. However, it is a fact that he entered and left the meeting, doing what he wanted, answering his cell phone, calling people during the meeting and working there, in short, he wanted to look cool, perhaps to show that, there, he could do everything. After a while he went out and did not come back. At that moment I thought “he is dead, he is gone, finally, he will never come back”. At the end of the meeting, he was not there yet. We tried to sum up what was said during the day and I said something like this: “yes, we can certainly carry out a good project, the important thing is to keep the cheap company policy out of it. I am a kind of person that is not afraid of saying if there is a problem and does not pretend that nothing has happened just because it is uncomfortable to let it out”. Let’s take one thing into account: I was in the worst place on planet to say something like that. I should have pulled it out after being their supplier, after finding some ally, not there, at the first meeting. And now I realize that, as I was telling them that, I was squinting, looking like Clint Eastwood ready to shoot someone. Now I’m aware that I still had a lot of anger inside me, letting that asshole piss on me had bothered me, and I was throwing this anger back on others, on his collaborators. Then I can tell you that, even during the evening, at home, I was irritated, I had a hard time falling asleep, I couldn’t bear the idea that an ignorant recommended asshole had pissed on my head like that.
Dragging between Sessions
The dragging between sessions is caused by negative experiences related to previous relationships with the same subject or with the same category of subjects. We may have had unpleasant experiences with some people of a specific category and associate these experiences to the entire category, entering the negotiation with a wrong disposition.
Already formed stereotypes must be used with caution. Above all, it is essential to learn how to clean one’s own mind from negative attitudes resulting from previous sessions, so as to enter the negotiation with a free and open mind.
Dragging between Emotional States of Personal Life and Professional Situations
Personal life inevitably generates emotional experiences.
Relationships with friends, family, relatives, as well as events experienced outside the work environment invariably have an impact on the person. Some individuals are good at masking what happens in their personal life (especially negative experiences), but disguising may not be the best strategy.
The most advanced techniques on a professional level provide – for those in need of a pressing negotiation and for those who negotiate at a high level – for the use of professional counselling and coaching tools, that can support the subject in elaborating the facts of personal and professional life, harmoniously integrating personal experience and managerial life.
We cannot pretend that a manager, who has just experienced a family or professional trauma, can go to work as nothing has happened and be equally productive. Illnesses, marriage problems, difficulties with children, etc., reduce concentration and the available mental energy.
At the same time, on the opposite level, it is possible to learn to feed on the positive emotions that private life can offer and absorb these energies to nourish the professional level.
It can be said that one of the most underestimated issues of today concerning management is the energetic and motivational condition of the subject; managers, as well as collaborators must be seen as “holistic beings” who live both a psychological and physical life.
Intercultural negotiation can create emotional turbulence and high emotional distress. Negotiation itself (intracultural negotiation too) is a phenomenon that has a deep impact on the person’s energy systems. The addition of the strong intercultural variable increases the cognitive cost of attention and processing, the likelihood of misunderstanding, break and repair.
It is therefore on the energy level that managers must be helped to find and maintain a high, positive condition, capable of providing them with the necessary support for intercultural negotiation challenges.
Techniques to Manage and Reduce Emotional Stress in Negotiation
Several strategies are used in the ALM method to manage emotional stress in negotiations.
Autogenic and meditative training techniques (passive techniques) and other relaxation techniques (physical dissipation, sports, active techniques) are extremely useful for generating a good emotional predisposition in the negotiator, especially if practiced the same day, before the negotiation session.
In the immediate future, the separation between personal emotional experiences and professional time can be helped by specific relaxation techniques, while at advanced levels and in the long term, turning to professional coaching and managerial counselling can be more productive, because they help managers learn to focus both on lifestyle elements (lifestyle training) and on emotional management techniques.
Usable techniques are:
conceptual preparation and desk-work strategies: cultural analysis, latent cultural objections analysis, objections management preparation;
experiential preparation strategies: situational role playing used to refine and activate motor and conversational patterns, to create readiness in conversational moves and to create self-confidence;
emotional preparation and emotional reorganization strategies: relaxation techniques, autogenic training, focusing and meditation;
physical techniques of bio-energetic recharge: doing physical work to remove stress through specific physical exercise;
disidentification techniques, such as those proposed by Assoagioli in Psychosynthesis, which can help individuals to distance themselves emotionally from their current experience, as if it were something happening to others, that cannot affect them;
cognitive restructuring techniques: for example, moving from the concept of “negotiation as a confrontation” to “negotiation as a helping relationship” (helping the other party to understand something or to achieve a goal);
post-negotiation debriefing techniques, that help individuals dissolve negotiation stress, rework it and use it to grow rather than letting it block them, forcing them being conceptually and emotionally committed or making them feel inadequate to face new goals and challenges.
In the following 2 articles we are going to talk about emotion management in intercultural negotiation, because beign able to not lose control over one’s own emotions means beign able to negotiate smoothly.
The Mental Noise Theory
The Mental Noise Theory highlights that people who are irritated or who experience negative emotions have greater difficulties in listening and processing information.
“Mental noise” can reduce by 80% the ability to understand and process communication.
Among the reasons that lead to a reduction, up to 20%, in communication efficiency, there are:
traumas caused by previous experiences;
competing agendas (priorities);
emotional excess (activation excess);
poor sense of self-efficacy and assertiveness.
The Awareness of One’s Own Emotional Predispositions
According to Schein, to negotiate or work positively, it is necessary to identify one’s emotional predisposition.
Schein highlights this dynamic within the consultancy process (consultant-client relationship) but it can also be extended to all dynamics of power management within groups, as in the case of negotiations:
If, due to my nature, I’m predisposed to respond to certain types of facts with certain types of emotional reaction, I must be aware of this predisposition to judge the degree of its suitability in specific situations. For example, if I tend to get defensive and angry every time a customer stands up to me or tells me I’m wrong, I have to recognize the existence of this tendency and learn to control myself or manage my emotions in the best possible way, especially if, in my judgment, a dispute with the client would not be productive for the purposes of the consulting process. However, it is not always wrong to be defensive or angry. Sometimes it is indeed the most adequate reaction, but in order to choose and decide the best way to deal with the situation it is necessary to know one’s predispositions…
As it is evident, the direction given by Schein is not that of absolute emotional repression, but of conscious management.
Communication Ecology and Emotional Leadership
The ecology of communication represents a complex sensory stimulus (meant as a set of visual, verbal, tactile, olfactory, gustatory, kinesthetic inputs). Each element that reaches the perceptive system of the subject can generate emotions (strong or weak, central or peripheral).
All sensory stimuli activated during the participation in a negotiation, can therefore activate emotions.
We constantly live inside specific emotional areas or emotional experiences, jumping from an emotion to another, sometimes quickly, other times slowly.
Negotiation meetings and negotiation activities are moments of strong emotional activation, because certain factors are involved, such as our personal interests, the interests of the role we represent, the company’s interests, but also our own “face” and image, towards ourselves (self-esteem) and towards others.
The negotiation outcome – positive or negative – can affect one’s personal history, self-confidence, sense of self-efficacy.
These emotional factors are generally amplified in intercultural negotiation, in which further dimensions can come into play, such as:
Communication Apprehension (or communication anxiety) amplified by intercultural encounters;
ethnocentrism, the consideration that one’s own culture is superior and the difficulty of accepting opinions from different cultures;
the IWTC (intercultural willingness to communicate), meant as a general attitude or predisposition (positive or negative) towards the idea of meeting people from different cultures.
Due to various phenomena, it becomes difficult to put into practice a conscious, rational management of emotions, that can help them emerge from our subconscious and unconscious, in order to be able to “deal with them”, reacting appropriately.
The Relationship between Emotions, Intercultural Communication and Teamwork Performance
How important are emotions in affecting performance? In the ALM method, it is strongly highlighted that the emotional experience of a group is one of the most important factors for obtaining lasting and effective performances.
Even a temporary group, made up of people who negotiate for a limited time, becomes a team for that period of time, a grouping of people who try to achieve results, each for themselves (in the most backward models) or with high mutual satisfaction, in more advanced win-win models.
The importance of emotional experiences in intercultural groups is also highlighted in the most extreme settings, such as in spatial multicultural crews. Space mission planning and management changes dramatically when teams are made up of people from different countries and cultures.
Although united by a passion and by a profession, the different experiences and acculturation backgrounds can lead team-members to collide in confined environments, as soon as these differences begin to come out.
Several studies examine the problem, to better understand the influence and management of cultural differences between crew members and technical-scientific teams who will work and live in space in the future. These studies therefore refer to the research on intercultural effectiveness on Earth; they also deal with how to improve selection/evaluation procedures, intercultural training, monitoring and support, and astronauts’ experiences debriefing.
If we look at the intercultural dynamics in progress, being locked up in a room to “make a negotiation work” is not very different from being locked up in a spaceship with the task of making it work.
During manoeuvres (physical or conversational), a multiplicity of emotional experiences may emerge (anger, disappointment, or even simple annoyance) which, after stratifying, can lead to a relationship breakdown and to operations malfunctions.
It’s not just about big choices, but sometimes it’s about behavioural micro-details, simple gestures. Small secondary elements that do not create disturbances within a culture, but can be unpleasant when judged by a different culture.
Recognizing emotions is therefore essential for the negotiation performance.