The sender-receiver model suggests we are sending and receiving messages simultaneously. I wonder sometimes if we are better at sending than receiving.
What is the role of listening in the delivery of an effective and on target message?
I have had many wise, patient and insightful mentors be kind enough to provide me feedback on my listening attentiveness and how it relates to my message delivery. Among the best is of the equine kind. Horses are highly skilled at providing feedback as to how well I am delivering my message, and how well I am listening to them while doing so.
One such lesson and feedback was provided over a line of lime. Lime is often used in riding arenas to outline courses or identify a start or finish line. For reasons beyond me, someone had laid a line of lime in the middle of the arena I happened to be riding in. Crystal, my mount, apparently had just as much lack of understanding of the purpose of this line of lime as I. Although we had mutual lack of understanding, we chose to respond quite differently. I chose to ignore it. She chose to refuse to cross over said blinding white, stinky, line of lime.
Here is where I began delivering my message. I asked for forward movement (ignore line). She began delivering her message by refusing (No way, I do not know what that is!). Being fully prepared to place the blame on Crystal’s plummeting listening skills, I continued to send my message. As did she. She snorted, she danced, she tossed her head; in fact she did just about everything but hear my message requesting she move forward. The more I asked, the less she listened.
Fortunately I came to my senses and my training kicked in. The realization that “I” was not listening hit me. Until I listened, there was no way Crystal would hear me. And the longer I chose not to listen, the more the situation would escalate. Horses, like people, have clear behavioral strategies to demonstrate their emotional state in a transaction. What is different in equine transactions is that escalation can result in this aging body ending up taking as much of a bruising as my emotions.
What was I hearing? Crystal had confusion regarding the line of lime in front of her. This confusion was creating fear. My insistence-and ignoring her fear-not only escalated her feelings, it validated there was a reason to feel what she felt. Since horses are herd animals, they take their lead from the leader. And if the leader was acting in an agitated manner (insistence and escalated requests), there certainly was a reason to feel fear. The issue then becomes less about the white line on the ground, and more about the feelings being generated between leader and follower. Crystal is experiencing fear in relation to the line, and behaves accordingly. My lack of acknowledgment of this feeling is eroding her trust in my leadership; much like people in a communication transaction.
When I change my behavior and how I respond to her, I influence how she is experiencing the situation; therefore how she is relating to the topic-the line of lime.
As I change my communication to focus more on addressing her fear and what she perceives, instead of delivering my agenda- which she cannot hear at this time anyway- her behavior de-escalates.
She demonstrates she has calmed by the typical “blowing out of the butterflies,” an equine version of a big sigh. Now I know I have her attention and she is able to hear me and I can introduce her to the line of lime in a different way, a way that will allow for future transactions to be positive and less fear-driven. By being calm, I translate to her it is “okay” and the line is not a danger. My previous state of agitation was not sending this message.
Upon realizing, through my behavior, there is no danger, Crystal is able to hear my request. This time when I ask her to move forward – over the line of lime- she responds and calmly walks over the line.
Communication transactions can come to a standstill over battle lines, versus moving forward through hearing the concerns and needs of both parties in the interaction. Are you able to hear why the other does not want to cross the white line? Or do you continue to push to cross over the line because you see no reason not to?
As my equine and human mentors have taught me on so many occasions, when I feel as if others are not listening, is it really them? Or is it me?