Have you ever felt you have been overlooked? Not regarded? Ignored? Not understood? Not listened to? Invisiable? Cast aside? Unfairly judged? Used? Abused? My guess is at some points in your life the answer maybe yes to some or all of the above. And how did it make you feel? I guess not great? Did it leave lasting damage? If we can relate to some or all of this it gives us an isight into what happens to many equines. Food for thought. As equines are sentient. My personal belief is they are capable of depth of wide range of emotions and have a spirit / soul. What does it take to really see another? To really listen to understand? If we can master these qualities our fellow man and our animals would really benefit. Sadly it is often in short supply in our modern fast paced, throw away world.
Listening and Observing to Understand.
With communication everyone likes to heard and understood. To be able to effectively communicate we need to put our needs, wants, desires or agendas to one side and open up to truly listening and observing to understand. An interesting one to ponder, how good a listener are you? Do you help others to express openly and honestly what they are thinking or feeling? Do you give them space and time to say what they need to say? Are you able to put the other person at ease so they feel safe to express themselves? Are you able to be non-judgemental and compassionate? No one like to be judged or criticised and it is sure fire way to close down communication. Are you an active listener who pays attention to what is said and the body language? Are you able to spot if the words and body language don’t match and the incongruence? Often a lot of information is also about what was not said, do you check out this? Do you ask open questions to encourage the flow of more information? Do you check with the other person to see if you have understood what they are telling you?
Listening and observing is about giving yourself to the other person, paying close attention to them, giving them the spot light. You need to not only listen to the story and what is said, but how it is said, the tone, expression, inflection, feeling, emotion, the energy, the use of language, and body language. Communication is not just words, verbal, it is non-verbal too. (With horses their language is mostly non-verbal so really learning to give space, listen and observe are essential). We need to listen with all our senses engaged. It is not a passive process. You need to be fully present and involved in listening. You must really concentrate and care what the other person has to say. Getting distracted with our own thoughts, feelings or things going on around can greatly interfere with effective listening. As communication is a two way process the person you are engaged in a conversation with will notice your lack of attention in your body language.
What is really interesting is if you are not good at listening and observing to understand others you are going to find what has just been expressed here very difficult to understand or apply. However just like any skill you can learn. It requires is for you to put into practice being an observant and active listener, and being more aware and playing closer attention to those you engage in conversations with. Think of all the daily golden opportunities you have to practice this skill on your fellow humans, your horse will thank you.
Before we move on let us explore listening as a skill, how to nurture and develop our listening skills. Did you know there are three different listening types we may be one or more of at any given moment? They are:-
• Listening to Learn
• Listening to Evaluate and Analyse
• Listening to Understand Feeling and Emotion
Listening to Learn
Listening to learn happens in many aspects of our lives: When we study at school, college, in lessons, workshops, at work, listening to the news, being talked through a technical problem, in meetings, etc…. It requires us to concentrate and put our minds in a deliberate state to learn and understand. When we are in this state we are taking information in to absorb it and at this stage we are not analysing or criticising the information. This is a different state of being, which we will come to. Listening to learn may even involve taking notes to review later. Which in turn may prompt questions to gain more clarity and roads to explore for more information gathering. If we think about listening to learn from our horse, how often are we quiet enough to allow our horse to talk? Ethical horsemanship is dialogue not monologue. Do we allow space for our horse to be listened to and understood? Are we open to being the student to the horse?
Engaged in critical listening requires us to question and evaluate what is said. For critical listening to help us it needs to be informed and educated listing. Gaps in our knowledge, cultural bias and traditional thinking when we engage in critical thinking can cause us problems. As critical listening often about decision making and problem solving. It requires the listener to analyse information against existing knowledge and beliefs. Therefore a lack of knowledge here can lead down a path towards flawed judgement. For us to make great judgement it pays to be educated, hence why listening to learn is so important, especially when we look across the species divide to the horse. For who is a better expert on being a horse, than a horse. They say when the student is ready the teacher arrives. Some teachers have four legs, some have two. How can we become better at critical listening? We can ask questions, open questions, encourage others to open up and elaborate. Ask ourselves questions what is the horse or other person trying to say? How does what I hear differ from my opinions, what I believe or know? For critical listening to be effective it is best to come with an open mind. This is not as easy as it sounds as there are many reasons why open mindedness is not easy, especially with equestrianism.
There are many pressures that keep us from being open minded or to try a new or different approach. Peer pressure is one, if you are on a livery yard you will find people are always happy to offer their advice and help. What you may find in short supply is people’s understanding and tolerance to approaches they know little or nothing about or disagree with on principal. You may even be unlucky enough to have a non-professional “yard-pert” “expert” or “experts” on the yard who will expect you to follow their advice as clearly they know it all and know what is best for not only your horse but you too. Using a different approach to what they expect you to use can then cause you further problems. You may even been seen as a maverick for going against the norm. All pressures for open mindedness.
Tradition is another pressure that can hold you back from trying a different or new approach. If something has always been done that way then it can be hard to open your mind and try going in a different direction. Still today there are people who are very rigid in their traditional thinking and will only work within one method and approved guidelines. However consider this: There is a big wide equine world out there outside these guidelines.
There are also people who will only work within one horsemanship approach too. By narrowing your thinking you will not allow yourself to open up to trying another approach, or something new. As with all things there are fashions and fads within the horse world. It is easy to get caught up in this, to jump on the latest band wagon / try the fashionable training method / be attracted by the media and marketing / and use the latest training gadget that promises to fix your problem etc... All of these are barriers for you to being open minded and trying something that is not in the spotlight or fashionable.
Assuming something will not work before you have even tried it is another barrier. I love the word ASSUME as to assume makes an ASS out of U and ME.
All of the above and more effect critical listening. As a horsemanship practitioner I see this in many shapes and forms when there is a problem in the relationship between horse and human. As bringing beliefs, bias, value systems always colour critical listening to the horse.
True critical listening needs an open enquiring mind, with the passion that learning is lifelong. It is about asking questions, and recognition that sometimes we don’t ask the right questions too.
Compassionate Listening to Understand Feeling and Emotion
Compassionate and Empathic Listening is understanding the feelings and emotions of another. Close empathy feels like a blurred line between one’s self and another. It is about the ability to put oneself into the mental shoes of another to understand their emotions and feelings. You cannot convince me that horses are not sentient and feel a wide range of emotions. Learning how to read your horse’s emotional state is essential in equine communication. If I asked you to reflect and gave you a sheet of A4 paper and a pen and asked you to write all the things your horse is capable of feeling and the horse’s emotions I am sure you would be back to ask for another sheet of paper? Your horse can read your emotional state too. Trying to hide your feelings creates incongruence and it rattles them. Communication is emotional.
You need to have a certain amount of empathy before you can feel compassion. Research shows that compassion and empathy take place in different parts of the brain. So we have to move from our empathy to compassion to move forward. A main characteristic of compassion is wishing that others be free from suffering. A lack of compassion, by contrast, can in extreme result in cruelty. So empathy helps us to identify feelings of another, and compassion is what we do. Taking compassionate action is the key to success. If you get caught in empathy and sympathy you and your horse will get stuck and not be able to move forward. Without compassion you can get stuck in the emotion without positive action. This can lead down a very unhelpful path and pull you and your horse down. So let us not confuse compassion with sympathy. They are very different. And will create different outcomes. Having sympathy, you will understand another’s situation even without feeling it yourself. Compassion is led differently as you feel and know what another is experiencing and want to step in to help and take action.