18 April 2020


I often use this expression in my workshops, both with students and with managers, and during this time of hyper information I want to stop for a moment and explore the meaning that “being sustainable in our relationships” has for me.

I like talking about the sustainability of human relationships, that for me means training to remain “human”, to be capable of authentic closeness to others even in difficult and conflictual situations thanks to the expression of our feelings, through non-verbal communication and empathic attitudes.

How do you do it? Where do we start from?

Below I’ll try to go over the points that are important to me.


1. Am I the one who explains in a wrong way … or is it you the one who did not understand?

How many times are we in this situation? At work, with the peers, with the collaborators, with our managers … at home, with our family and I tell you the truth, this also happens to me with my dogs! In both spoken and written communication it often happens that we don’t understand each other.


2. What does COMMUNICATE mean?

Let’s start from the base, from the definition.

In a broad sense, communicating means transmitting information to others.

In a more specific sense, it means sharing contents with someone.

Let’s take the simplest case:

“A” sends a message, “B” receives it.

This involves a relationship between “A” and “B”, right?

When “A” transmits a content and “B” receives it, “B” gives it a meaning linking words to reference images, starting a process of understanding.

If “A” communicates the weather forecast on TV instead, it is a broadcast. This doesn’t involve an interaction with the listeners. Communication is unambiguous, clear, and it respects a code: symbols, words and gestures facilitate understanding, which leaves no room for interpretation.

The source can be more or less reliable, but the transmission itself doesn’t generate misunderstandings.

This is more difficult when we’re involved in a relationship, right?


3. What is EMPATHY?

EMPATHY is a respectful undestanding of what others feel. It means putting ourselves in other’s shoes.

I suggest you to listen to this song by Niccolò Fabi.

Instead of offering empathy, we often feel a strong impulse to give advices or assurances and to explain our opinion or our feelings.

Empathy, however, requires to clear our mind and to listen to others with our whole being (ears, heart, body).

Regardless of words, we learn to observe the feelings, the needs and the requests that others express with the nonverbal communication.

Are we sure at this point that we’ve really understood the other? Have you ever tried to rephrase what you understood, summing up with your own words? In this way we give others the chance of expressing theirselves before turning our attention to the solution or to offering them help.

To give empathy we need empathy.

When we realize we are on a defensive mode or unable to empathize we must: stop, breathe, give empathy to ourselves, express our feelings honestly and take some time.


4. How can we train to COMMUNICATE with EMPATHY?

Among the many approaches we’ve taken into consideration, I propose you the nonviolent communication.

I like this model because it can be adapted to any situation: from the family to the company and to the communities.

I observe the environment without judging it, I just observe. It is different from judging!

When I express a judgment (both positive or negative) I’m putting the other in a defensing mode, not in a listening mode.

I listen to myself, how am I? What do I feel? I start from myself and… this is not gesture of selfishness! I get responsibility of how I feel and I recognize my feelings.

What do I need? I’m the only one who knows it, if I’m in contact with my feelings.

Is there anything in particular, in this environment, at this moment, here and now, that could make me feel better? Which actions can enrich my life? I learn to make specific requests.


5. What blocks EMPATHY?

What brings us to communicate in a way that hurts others and ourselves?

JUDGMENT. Judging others, considering them as the ones who don’t act in harmony with our values, prevents us from feeling what they feel.

CLASSIFY and MAKE COMPARISONS. The analyses we make on others are actually an expression of our own needs and values. It is easier to criticize what others do and say, rather than to clearly express our opinion based on our real needs.

Every time we “blame him/her” we are actually denying our RESPONSIBILITY, our needs, our feelings, our thoughts.

We block empathy even when we express our needs in the form of CLAIM.


In my work, empathy is crucial, if I can’t put myself in someone else’s shoes, I can’t help, right?

During the three years of training in Counseling in Gestalt and Bioenergetics, I learned that before entering into a relationship with the other, I must be well connected to myself: I have to understand the context in which I am, to feel my needs, to recognize my feelings. There are days when I feel nervous, but recognizing my level of annoyance and sometimes declaring it to the client, allows me to stay clean in our relationship.

If I don’t realize it and If I don’t communicate it to the person in front of me, I wouldn’t take responsibility for my state of mind and I would let the other interpreting my attitude. Since we can’t know what tools the other has to interpret and understand our message, the best thing to do is to take full responsibility for what we say, including the way and the tone.

I’ll be honest: if I succeed in getting in and out of the other’s shoes in the Counseling sessions, I can’t say the same for my daily communications with friends and family. Being always centered is not so easy, it requires a lot of work and constant training. Just realizing it is a good step, but it is not enough.

Have a good journey.