Responsible Communication: How to Take Ownership in Order to Be Effective

I talk about responsible communication all the time. I believe strongly that it is my responsibility to make my communication understood by the other person. Instead of asking a person to change for me, I need to determine what s/he heard or interpreted and be willing to course-correct as necessary.

Now, I also believe that an emotionally-aware relationship is defined by both parties taking equal responsibility in their communication. I find, however, that emotionally-aware relationships are not the norm in my life nor in the lives of those who I coach. So, if the goal is responsible communication we must all put into action the steps necessary to fully own our share of our communication with others.

One way to do this is to confirm what the other party heard and ensure the interpretation is accurate before anyone takes action. In so doing, we must all be willing to be neutral and proactive, not reactive. Yes, this is easier said than done, especially in primary relationships or with family.

Here at Challenge U, our horse teachers give us feedback about our communication that is very helpful in our human relationships. The horses are 100% present, non-judgmental and 100% non-verbal in their delivery. They naturally seek connection and are willing partners in their interactions with other horses and with us.

And humans? Well, not so much. This takes work.

When we partner with the horse and ask them (non-verbally) to co-create a goal with us, we then use the feedback to determine if we were effective in communicating what we intended. It is never “bad horse” if they don’t do what we thought we asked. Rather, it is always, “How did I communicate that the horse heard, “Run!” even though I intended to communicate, “Walk!”?

At this point, we must be willing to look to ourselves as the reason for them is understanding, not to a “bad horse” – or bad employee, spouse or child. Make sense? I had a client recently that did this exact exercise with the horse teacher: she entered a round pen with a specific goal to co-create with the horse. As we do with everyone who attends a Challenge U workshop, she was first taught to “speak horse” before the activity. After all, it is the communicator’s job to speak the language of the recipient, not for the horse to speak human. This is always eye opening for workshop participants, because we humans tend to do the opposite in our daily lives.

This particular client struggled with the clarity of her communication. When she asked the horse to walk, it just stood there; when she got it to walk, it kept turning and going the other direction.After the third time the horse turned and went in another direction, I asked our client what she intended to communicate. Well, she had a very interesting response…Instead of keeping with her original intention, she was changing her goal in real time based on the horse’s action. She was accommodating the other being instead of learning the new tool or skill and effectively staying on track with her goal. When we discussed this, she realized how much adjusting she had been doing in her daily life to accommodate others at the expense of her own direction. She realized how exhausting it is to constantly zig and zag instead of staying on course. What a breakthrough!

With the horse’s wisdom and time spent being open to new tools for communication, we all realized together that this pattern was a limiting one. Now she gets to stay on track, enjoy effective communication, and proactively develop herself in the process. She can remain the very caring and accommodating person she is, but she is now armed with the tools to balance herself with the demands of her environment.

Can you relate to our client’s initial dilemma? Her experience – including the breakthrough! – isn’t rare here at Challenge U. What value the horses bring to us as master communicators!

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