How to ride the risk in conversations that matter
Imagine if I gave you a horse, a saddle, a goal to get to and specific time to arrive by. One more thing, you had never ridden a horse before.
Under those conditions how comfortable would you feel about getting up, staying on, and being sure you would both arrive on time. Safely.
Such are the expectations placed on you with a challenging leadership, peer or team talks.
Where the horse is the conversation you need to climb, the saddle your skill at staying with it. The direction represents outcome and likely challenges. The timing equates to pressure to deliver.
Is it surprising that so many feel like keeping their feet on the ground?
That’s the benefit of never trying tough conversations – being 100% sure about what will change. Nothing
The saddle analogy points to the first lesson learned in Equine Guided Education (EGE). Horses don’t care about your job title, team size or office dimensions. The superficialities we use to gauge and respond to seniority at work, is worthless when you enter a stable.
Equine graduates extend themselves and their approach. New ways to gain attention, get into rapport before trying to lead, working with a relationship no matter where it starts from. The challenge is to do all of that, somehow, without relying on positional power or language. The very tools in use daily at work.
One executive crystallized the issue best « out here if I slip I can stand back up, wipe myself down and carry on. But if I slip up at work, in front of a colleague or client, I can’t do that as easily »
Conversations are tougher when you (over) attach self-worth to what happens
Riding a horse is a lot like work life. There is no simulator, you practice on the job and when you fall it can be a long, anxious, way down. More often than not, others will see you tumble.
When I first began riding I took the same approach that served my executive life. I had the how-to covered in theory, I watched others like me succeed, and set out with enthusiasm.
I started well. But surprise turned into frustration with horses who were reluctant, or simply refusing, to go the way I wanted them to. I did everything right (I think) but they would drift off the path and lose interest. They’d stop. Or make it very clear they preferred me to dismount and disappear.
I was holding the reins, but I was not holding the relationship.
What was missing?
Connection. A real connection, not the kind implied because of proximity or pushed because of necessity.
A connection that comes from contact. From being fully present in a space that can be shared with two people or a whole team full. People willing to open up, explain and see improved relationships as a benchmark of success.
During our sessions at the stable, we know that at some point the horses will slow down. Their curiosity will edge them closer to the students. Soon senior executives, medical professionals and managers are nose to nose with a large, heavy breathing animal. An animal awaiting a conversation to start.
In their non-verbal way they ask the same question your colleagues do when you approach them to talk. ‘Before asking anything of me, do you know where you are going?’
The easy answer is yes, but hold on. Take a moment to double check. Are you stating yes without the sensation of full agreement. Are you embodying your intention with the words you choose and the way you walk, talk and stand up to examination?
This is where EGE comes into its own as a learning tool. No matter their seniority or work style, all clients learn that horses can acutely sense, and reflect incongruity; even when we consciously try to cover up.
Even when we try convincing ourselves, horses see it and feel it if it isn’t there. They won’t follow what they don’t trust.
Nor would you.
What are you ready to do to gain and maintain the connection?
Making a connection isn’t free. It comes with both initial investment and long term cost. The currency? Emotional honesty, delivered with contact and clarity.
You take inner dialogue and presumptions out of the air and into others awareness. Together you establish common ground and understanding.
It’s difficult to begin
Concerned? Everyone has a good reason to stay silent, but even the quietest eventually find a reason to talk.
To get there sooner try altering how you think about conversations. Instead of ‘con’frontation or effort, what if every talk was going to a place of exploration. What if you welcomed objections and saw outcomes as part of a wider loop of learning.
How different would your conversational energy be if you began from this point?
Tie conversation success to the strength of your connection.
On a horse, moving from walking speed to trotting then to a gallop means opening up space for growth. On a deeper level it means changing the nature of the conversation; introducing more vulnerability to reach higher performance.
When riding it means merging my perception of reins as a tool to hold back, with the horse’s need for those same reins to be a source of freedom.
But I am bringing unresolved issues and emotions?
Handling the fear is a must. To try and talk whilst wanting to leave the room will create discomfort on every level. Try this.
1. Briefly describe the difficulty. Stick to the facts, stay away from interpretation.
2. React on emotion then that this creates for you. Discuss the more emotion than thought
3. Then share your views on the needs that are involved and that are associated with this difficulty. Discuss your individual needs as well as members of the team that needs the other or team . Talk about what is important to you , affecting your values , which arouses your feelings.
4. Finally , write a short application that you would be willing to speak to the other person or team to correct the situation or to prevent it happening again. This request concerns the concrete actions that I would like to see concrete actions that the other would like to see.
I worked with a team incapable of having real conversations.
When they tried what you would see was rolling eyes, speaking behind others’ backs, incessant complaining, outright resistance, lurching from argument to defence and back again. Not nice.
They were paying a price. Exhausted by so much hostility. Exasperated at not knowing what they could do differently. My first visit revealed a blend of hopelessness and disconnect. The loss in productivity was measurable, the toxic climate was palpable.
Sound familiar? So was part of the answer. Going back to the basis and rebuilding the importance of being connected in order to achieve success. One particular session was a revelation. A controlled forum for clarification on what they wanted for themselves and for their team.
For the first time (in a long time) they could see how similar those needs were. Expressed audibly, the defensiveness melted. Defences down, we turned forward with a foundation to build on. A strong one, backed by their action plan, my support and tools to assist.
Being able to understand how connection was supporting them was a turning point. And felt so good. They toxic environment dissolved and their work life is far less complex now.
It is easy to ride a horse when neither of you are resisting the other.
Expanding your point of view and presumptions allows connection to occur. Embodying your intent, and honesty, bring truth to the conversation.
It does not mean all is defined, nor that every ride will be smooth. Being vulnerable is about starting off without having all the answers.
But doing that with a horse, peer group or team convinced by your congruity means you are not riding alone.