Good day team,
This week’s challenge is entitled “Getting the Message Across”, the second entry in my horse sense series. It illustrates the importance of having a strong intention about what you want to have happen and then a very clear message to go along with it.
I arrived at my horse lesson last week determined to have a frank conversation with my teacher about how to get my horse to keep a safe distance from me. The last time I’d worked out with Treasure, my horse, she acted like a disobedient adolescent. As much as I tried, she wouldn’t do anything I asked her to do. She snorted and scraped the ground with her foot. She went the opposite direction of where I was trying to lead her, and wouldn’t look me in the eye or even in my direction. She seemed completely distracted by everything else around us – the owl in the rafters of the arena, the other horses in the stables, and any person that walked by. But, what was most irritating was that I couldn’t get her out of my space.
I tried everything to get her to back away. I jiggled the rope. I tapped her with my stick. I waved my hands up in the air. I even resorted to doing jumping jacks to get her to back up. She’d back away a bit, only to come right back. I finally reached the end of my patience when in trying to get her out of the round pen, she came right up upon me and attempted to shut the gate as I opened it. “YOU NEED TO BACK-UP”, I yelled at her. She looked at me and yawned.
I went away from that day very discouraged. As my lesson began, I explained to Debby, my teacher, what was happening. She asked me a few questions about what had I done to send the message to Treasure that I needed her out of my personal space. As I began to explain, Debby was suddenly right on me. Her body was right up against mine and her face was no more than a ½ inch from mine. “What are you going to do about this, she exclaimed, do you want me in your space, do you want me here, what are you going to do about it?” I squirmed, I struggled to push her back. “I weigh 1100 pounds,” she said, “you can’t move me… I’m not going anywhere. What are you going to do about it?” I tried to grab my stick to put it up between the two of us. I wanted to run away but the wall of the barn was right behind me. “MOVE BACK”, I yelled, but still, she stayed right where she was. I finally acquiesced. “I don’t know what to do”, I said meekly.
Debby backed up. “OK,” she said. “This is going to look ugly to you but if you want to get a message across to your horse, you need to mean it. If you give the lead rope a little wiggle and she doesn’t back up, you have to continue to strengthen the movement of that rope until she does. Give it a huge yank if you have to. You need to have a strong intention about what you want from her so your energy is also saying, ‘Hey, you’re in my space and that’s not ok, move back.’ It’s not angry or mean, it’s effective.”
As I worked with Treasure that day, I found that if I had a strong intention for her to move and made one swift circle with the rope, she backed right up. As soon as she did, I stopped to give her an opportunity to understand what I wanted. Pretty soon, all I had to do was give the rope a wiggle with some intention and she was backing up.
Here’s the lesson I learned. If you say it and don’t really mean it, the message doesn’t come across the way you need it to. Your intention must be strong and the message needs to be delivered without hesitation. If you doubt what your saying, that doubt comes across in your message. Horses, like people, need to know who the leader is. They actually enjoy being led and getting clear direction.
I saw an example of this in my work recently with a client. She needed to deliver a tough message to one of her staff. Her team member had dropped the ball on a big project and her disengagement was putting the whole project team in jeopardy of meeting its initial targets. To make matters worse, the manager and team member were also friends. It’s hard to wear multiple hats, e.g. one as the boss and one as friend, when you’re trying to manage someone.
The manager had already had one conversation with her team member where she told her, “Look, I’m not sure what’s happening here. But you’re responsible for making sure this project gets done on time. You seem to be disengaging. What’s the problem?” Her team member explained that she was having problems at home and it was affecting her work. The manager immediately put on her ‘friend’ hat and the rest of the conversation was about ways to resolve the home situation.
Now, the manager needed to have another conversation because the first meeting with her team member didn’t change anything. This time, she needed to get a strong message across that dealt specifically with her team member’s lack of focus on the project. Here’s how it went:
“I know you’re having problems at home, but I really need you to re-engage here. We have some definite delivery dates that can’t change and you’re in charge.” Her team member agreed that yes, she needed to take charge of this and the meeting was over.
After a few weeks, I asked my client how it was going with her team member. She replied that things were a little better, but she still wasn’t seeing what she needed. I asked her if she thought her messages about the project were clear enough to her team member. She replied that she was trying to get a clear message across but was also being sensitive to her team members personal situation. What I saw here was that the managers intention was two-fold. One, she wanted her team member to re-engage and work on the project. Two, she wanted to be sensitive to her team members personal situation. Thus, her team member was getting two messages.
In this example, you can clearly see that there were multiple factors weighing on the manager that were impacting her messages to her team member. I’m not advocating that managers not take into account the factors that effect their employees but, if you start off a meeting by giving one message, “I know you’re having problems at home” and then state the real message, “I really need you to re-engage here”, then it sounds like your priority is the first message rather than the second. This immediately takes away the power of the most important message.
This week, ask yourself if you’re getting the message across to your team members. Are you being direct and clear? Do you find yourself starting off a tough conversation by filling in with unimportant information just to ease the tension? Are you trying to get too many messages across at one time that are confusing? Maybe you’re trying to lead the person into giving you the right message by asking them questions, when in fact, you already know the answer? The real question is, what’s your intention? If you need something to change quickly, is that sense of urgency clearly in your message? Perhaps you need to have a more exploratory conversation with someone. How do you state that intention? Or maybe you simply need to give someone directions. How does that message sound and look?
This past week, I learned about the importance of giving my horse a clear message. If I need her to move away from me, then I have to let her know that without confusion or hesitation. If my intention about what I want is strong and my message is clear, I’m going to have much more success in getting my message across. I’m going to try doing more of this in my day-to-day interactions with people, too. Your challenge this week is to do the same.
Have a good week!
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