Empathy and Active Listening

Ikigai. Enhanced listening through models

Copyright by Dr. Daniele Trevisani. Article extracted with author’s permission from the book “Ascolto attivo ed Empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace” (translated title: “Active Listening and Empathy: The Secretes of Effective Communication”. The book’s rights are on sale in any language. Please contact Dr. Daniele Trevisani for information at the website

We can enhance listening through models that help us to ask more correct and centred questions, both  

  1. in the way(listening mode) and  
  2. in content(content of the questions). 

If we centre both, we will have made a perfect centre. For this purpose we anticipate the model, central to this book, of the “scale of listening levels”, which concerns above all the “way” of listening. The scale is shown in the figure below. 

levels of listening and levels of empathy

We will go into the details of this scale in the next chapter.  

For now, suffice it to say that the tools for making quality leaps in active listening do exist, and you can make huge strides, to the point of making it one of the strengths of your life and changing the way you are. 

Listening is part of communication, communication is part of people’s lives, and people’s lives are part of the universe.  

By listening, we are also making a contribution to understanding the part of the universe that lives in us. 


The effort to understand the universe is among the very few things that raise human life above the level of a farce,  

giving it some of the dignity of a tragedy. 

 (Steven Weinberg) 


Returning to the scale, as we can see, we start from the bottom, with imprecise, judgmental, aggressive listening, until we get to active, empathic, positive listening, going through intermediate traits. 

These are the modes of listening. If we apply these modes to a model, be it psychosocial or organisational, we obtain ‘modelled listening’. The model we focus on briefly now is the IkigaiIkigai (生き甲斐) is the Japanese equivalent of meanings such as ‘reason for living’, ‘raison d’être’, ‘purpose of life’. In Okinawa Ikigai is seen as “a reason to wake up in the morning”, and certainly, “what is your reason for waking up in the morning” is both a powerful question and a moment of powerful empathy and advanced active listening. 

Ikigai is a composite word, derived from Ikiru, meaning ‘to live’ and kai, meaning ‘shell’. Symbolically, it represents our space of expression, the place in space-time in which we feel ‘at home’, and our life mission. Indeed,  



 “Everyone, according to Japanese culture, would have their own Ikigai. Finding the reason for one’s existence, however, requires an inner search that can often be long and difficult. This search is considered very important and its successful conclusion brings the person deep satisfaction.  

In addition to the positive aspects for those who follow their Ikigai, there can also be negative aspects: those who live life with extreme passion risk being consumed by it to the point of degradation”.  

The four main vectors or variables are 

  1. What you LOVE
  2. What the world NEEDS
  3. What you can be PAID FOR
  4. What you are GOOD AT.

From this come four major stimuli. 

Think about these four questions: 

  1. What do you like or love to do?
  2. What are you good at?
  3. What does the world need from you?
  4. For which of the things you can do can you be paid?

When we manage to find answers that satisfy all four propositions, we may say that we have found our Ikigai. Many studies have shown that Ikigai, or approaching this condition, prolongs and improves life17, so this concept has come to be the subject of high-level18 academic study. Ikigai represents the perfect centre, the condition that satisfies all other conditions, whereby we are able to do work that we love, work that is useful to the world, work that we are paid for, and work at which we are skilled. 

In psychology, this condition closely resembles a life or existence led in a state of Flow. 

, or Flow, “the magical moment when everything flows perfectly and time seems to vanish”, a concept introduced in 1975 by the psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi and then spread to various fields of application of psychology, including performance, sport, spirituality, education and work, the immersiveness of experience in everyday life, creativity, and meditation.  In moments of flow, everything seems to work magically and perfectly, even though the challenges are there and they are high. We can say that listening in a Flow state exists, and is made possible by our total “Mental Presence” in listening combined with the mental presence of the other and mutual availability. We notice how the imperfect intersections, those spaces where one or more of the four basic needs are not satisfied, generate different types of “state of life”, which can be examined in the figure itself. 

We will then have questions such as:  


What do you love to do in life? 

What do you think the planet and the world need right now? 

What are the jobs for which you can get paid? 

What are the things that make you feel good? 


Listening can become more and more complex, as in management coaching where we want to be able to understand what condition a person is in in relation to their work experience. So for example: 


  • Do you love what you are doing now? 
  • Do you think what you are doing now is useful? 
  • Are you satisfied with your remuneration? 
  • Do you get gratification at work, apart from remuneration? 
  • How do you live your working day? 
  • At which moments do you feel that you are giving your best at work with pleasure? 

We could ask many more questions, not an infinite number, but a very large number. The answers can allow us to make “hooks” on what emerges to deepen and widen the discourse, or instead we can go into detail with selective listening when we find a problem, or focus on an emotional detail of a conflict with a co-worker or a leadership problem, and apply empathic listening. In the beginning we need useful starting models to help us get off on the right foot, and then correct the course as we go along. 

Listening is one of the most sensitive human activities, using models certainly enhances it, but it never replaces the human sensitivity needed to practice quality listening. Capturing the nuances of people, whether at work or in life, requires an enormous empathic will, method and a pinch of artistry. People are universes, they are infinite worlds, looking into them can make you dizzy, but it is worth it. Because to know a person is to know a piece of the universe. 

It’s strange how your life can take a direction.  

Then you meet a person and everything changes. 


Sophia Danko (Britt Robertson) 

from the movie “The answer is in the stars” by George Tillman Jr. 

© 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.

This article about the Power of Listening is about

  • active listening
  • active listening skills
  • active listening skills and empathy
  • active listening skills and empathy in leadership
  • aggressive listening
  • aggressive listening effects
  • emotional resonance emotional resonance
  • empathic listening
  • scale of listening levels
  • scale of listening levels example
  • sensitive listening