© Article translated from the book “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace“. copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available. If you are interested in publishing the book in any language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact Dr. Daniele Trevisani.
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 Meanings5 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 thought, of his misfortunes, of 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.)”. 6
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 speaker, half 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.
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