Monday, February 10, 2014

Stop Being a Jerk

How To Avoid Seeming Like an Arrogant, Know-it-all Jerk | LinkedIn

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Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, isn't the sort of writer I normally follow.  I went through a lengthy self-help period years ago and swore off when I found I couldn't keep the rules straight from one philosophy to the next.  But of late she's had some very good things to say to those of us who are having...ummmm...issues.  Last week I expanded on her post about people who complain but don't want help and why they do that.  This week she's speaking directly to me and people like me:  Arrogant, Know-it-all Jerks.

Okay, I don't really see myself that way, but I'll bet some of my friends would argue the point.  I know my faults in this area fairly well and was delighted to find such a perfect description of me in print.  Someone who knows cares!

I see my personal bugaboo as number 6.  It's not that I don't want to remember.  It's not that I don't care to remember.  It's that I'm talking faster than I'm thinking, and the details get lost in the stampede of information I'm so set on delivering.  I like to blame it on 25 years in the classroom where time limits and information dissemination were dire enemies of the learning state.  If it makes you feel more kindly towards me, I usually do go home and try very hard to remember what you said about your second cousin in Albuquerque.  I just don't have anything else to connect the information to to move it into my mid-term memory because I didn't give you enough time to talk.  And if I meet more than three people in a day, then forget it.  I take pictures of where I left my car (I wasn't joking, Zoe), so person number two is likely to be anonymous until someone else tells me his or her name again.  I would love it if everyone wore "Hi!  My Name Is:__________" badges 24/7.  It would be even better if there were some identifying info like "We met at the Monaco Hotel last September," but that's asking a bit much.  Just sayin'.  I used to put my high school students in seats in alphabetical order for a reason.

But, enough about me.  Back to you and your personal communication quirks....

The ability to communicate without seeming overbearing or obnoxious comes down to recognizing that the other person(s) in the convo are just as anxious to have their say as you are.  They want to be recognized for their expertise in whatever area they're most secure with, and they want everyone around them to note their existence in a meaningful way.  They're almost as human as you are.

I've written at length about "spheres of reality", and nowhere is this more evident than in shared communication.  To recap, each of us paints our world with the palette of our experiences, which are, by default, unique to us.  So while you're happily expounding on the subject at hand--let's say The Nit-Picking of Dressage Coaches--you feel as if you're the center of the small universe surrounding you.  You've got the floor, so it's all you.

But the thing to recognize is that every single person listening to you feels exactly the same way.  They are watching you, listening to your exposition, and filling the spaces with their own words that are going unsaid because it's your turn to talk.  But their thoughts and their internal dialog are preeminent for them despite your fascinating exposition and engaging manner (and cute shoes or nice outfit or kudos from someone higher up).  So it doesn't take much for your listeners to feel as if you're walking on their egos with your new custom tall boots.

This is a fault I've noted often in horse trainers and those horse people trying to sell their personal approach to interacting with equines and equids.  The Prime Directive of any kind of education is to start where the student is, no matter what his or her species.  If you come at your students, human and equine, with an above-it-all attitude, and if you start talking without first asking a few simple questions to gauge the thought process level and the engagement level of the students at hand, you've lost them before you've begun.  You have invalidated all of their experience that doesn't match precisely with yours...which means most of it.  Oh, you'll get the wide-eyed grin of recognition when you happen to touch on something that sounds familiar or feels right, but otherwise you're not going to be remembered for what you said so much as what you didn't do.

Dressage judge and clinician Linnea Seaman doing what she does
best.  One-on-one is hard to come by in clinics, but that's the only
way she rolls.  Here she discusses with my daughter something about
core and breathing...or maybe sweaters.  I really only remember what
she and I talked about, and that in great detail.

I've attended endless clinics and demonstrations by Big Name Trainers and almost as many seminars and workshops on self-improvement.  I remember about four.  I will forever be a fan of Richard Shrake's because he let those of us who had not brought horses to the clinic and signed up only to audit share, for a few brief exercises, the horses of those who had, and he talked to each of us individually.  It was a big group, so this was quite the exercise in compassion and patience on his part.  As a result, his lessons are engraved in my mind.  He found me where I was and put them there himself.

The same goes for a Curt Pate demo on colt-breaking.  Despite the size of the crowd (this was at an AQHA Regional Experience), he managed to make eye contact with each of us and allowed us to talk to him and ask questions.  Again, I'll remember his lessons far longer than I remembered the two-day clinic with Linda Tellington-Jones.  She started off great on the first night with a video of her using her TTouch on various animals, and she actually did let some of us ask questions, but not many.  The next full day, however, was full of her demo-ing and us watching without being able to verify our understanding of the lessons or get any sense that she was interested in our experience in the moment.  I remember her massaging a turtle, which was excessively cool.  Other than that, it's a blur of her on a horse with some sort of hula-hoop around its neck and no bridle.  The rest is long gone.

So whether you're a writer, a clinician, a trainer, or the perennial student, if there's no connection, it's the fault of the style of communication on both ends.  If you're not getting anything from the lesson, speak up!  Ask...demand...that your presence be acknowledged and that whoever is doing the talking gets that you can't understand something that you can't relate to.

By the way, your horse tells you that all the time.  You might want to consider giving him the same courtesy.

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