I was so lucky to attend an amazingly unique training session as a participant last summer. It was held on a small horse ranch in the Yarra Valley wine country of Victoria, Australia. The session was conducted by a good friend of mine, Cheryl Cruttenden. Cheryl expertly uses horsemanship as the basis of her executive training. I found the horses a little scary to start off with (their big and I’m a big scaredy-cat – I know, I know, I know… it’s embarrassing). Once I got over my fears, the session was both insightful and valuable to highlight personal and team growth opportunities.
One of the first exercises we did was to observe a few horses grazing in a paddock and use one-word answers to describe what we were seeing. The group came up with words such as calm, eating, bullying, affectionate, slow, and dominant (amongst many other words) for different horses and their actions which played out in front of us over a ten-minute period. As Cheryl brought the team back together to discuss the descriptions she highlighted to us that only a few of the words were actually things that did in fact happen. For example, a horse that is eating grass can be described as eating. However, saying that a horse is being affectionate is an assumption. The horse is actually rubbing its neck against the horse next to it. It may have had an itch. It may have been cold. It may have been trying to shove the other horse away. We don’t know. The description is open to a wide deluge of mis-interpretations. It is this type of observation labeling that clutters our thoughts and our language with each other every day of our lives.
This fact stunned me. I was smashed in the face with the realisation that our personal and professional lives is littered with this sort of cluttered thinking and communication. If we all simply saw things for what they were, rather than guessing and assuming it would make for a reality which is clearer, more pleasant, and smoother for all concerned.
In the real world I know that as a leader we must use our instincts along with our experience of people to make tough decisions. It is a fact of life that a good leader will sometimes be forced to make decisions based on half the story, or a fraction of the facts. With this in mind, where possible this needs to be balance by recognising that there are large blank spots in what we know about given situations at hand. Here we need to acknowledge where we are making assumptions, and therefore where we need to investigate further for confirmations on facts. We also need to decipher what we are being told – what is a factual description and what is assumed information. The result is that better decisions are made when the “clutter” is removed.
De-cluttering communication, and the communication that you accept from your team will cause a cultural shift in your workplace. For starters gossip will begin to dissipate. Emotionally based perceptions will start to lose out to factual perceptions, and those that work hard with a positive intent will start be seen, while those that are not performing in alignment with the business will start be found out. I personally like the look of this de-cluttered picture.
Ask yourself how cluttered your thinking and communication is. Start by writing these perceptions down in two columns when you are observing a situation play out in front of you; column one for real descriptions & column two for assumed descriptive words. Continually do this until it becomes second nature to recognise what you really see without all the other clutter and see what happens to your own performance as well as those around you.
Thanks Cheryl! I am no longer scared of horses, but I also learnt a valuable lesson about de-cluttering that has nothing to do with keeping my desk tidy!