In workshops with horses, participants learn throughout the week to notice what is going on between them and the horses and to read that as feedback.
Since a horse cannot tell us in words how they feel about what we do, the only way to begin to understand is to pay attention to how they behave. And it is important to do so, since it could be dangerous if we ignored their signs. When a horse turns their hind legs towards you, it is very possible you did something it didn’t appreciate, you had better pay attention. Though I used to own a mare who would turn her hind towards you, quite innocently, in the hope you'd scratch her tail, still good to pay attention, since if you didn't come forward to give her a massage she might just walk into you backwards - just to make sure you got the point.
Though in the beginning participants tend to look at the horse as a human, that means when things don’t work out, it is because the horse was difficult, bored, nervous or tired, after a while they start to see the feedback the horse is giving them. They realise that the horse was responding to them and what was happening around them, not just acting in a vacuum.
In organisations, though, it seems we often believe we live in that vacuum. As if there is no connection between what we do, our context and how others behave. As if the only way we can understand what is happening between us and our colleagues, employees and managers is if we give extensive feedback.
I am often told: “what people need to learn here is to give feedback, they don’t tell others what they think” or “people here cannot tell others what they think in a positive way, they are far too harsh.” I’ve experienced myself the value of well delivered feedback so I understand and appreciate the time we spend on this in learning programmes. Still I wonder why we spend so little on the reverse. How come I’ve never been asked if I can help people to read the feedback that is already there in our posture, movements, face, tone and silences; that which can be read between the lines.
It’s not easy reading people. We need to pay attention and test our thinking by asking questions. We may need to face things about ourselves we would prefer to avoid. And we may be able to improve relationships, and change the behaviours that are getting in our way.
Feedback, especially the type, which supports people to build their strengths or develop themselves, is a gift. Noticing how people respond to you, reading between the lines, asking them if you understood, responding to their silent feedback is a gift too, one that deserves just as much attention.
And should you, right now, be copying the link to send a message to those around you that they should be paying attention and read the silent feedback that you have been giving them, feeling really annoyed that they still haven’t gotten what is so clear - hoping this blog will teach them to pay attention to you. Hold on one moment, there’s some feedback for you, it is probably time to simply give them your feedback.
This is nr 6 in a series of 13 about my insights from 2013 which i took into 2014 ... These have been published on my earlier website and I am reposting them here because they still feel relevant.