The famous 13th-century Persian poet, Rumi, said, “There is a voice that doesn’t use words. Listen.” A common interpretation of that quote is religious. But I’d like to take a moment to look at it another way. The voice of our intuition.
Life is noisy. It’s really easy to move about without paying attention to the silent signals we get from the people and situations around us. For some, it’s the voice in our heads that is too loud and constant. That inner dialogue we have running, which some might call being self-absorbed, can prevent us from looking outward to others, and to take notice of what their behavior or body language is telling us. Whether it’s because we are moving at a pace too fast to take notice, or we haven’t honed the skill, it is to our own detriment to ignore the unspoken signals.
When teaching presentation skills, we often hear people say they are too nervous or focused on making sure they don’t mess up their presentation to pay attention to the room. When working with teams struggling to communicate and work effectively together, we hear people express frustration about not listening to one another. But most often, regardless of the details, we find the source of the issue is with people ignoring the voices which don’t use words.
Our herd does this intuitively. The horses could not care less what words are used with them. They don’t care about explanations, narratives, or the best excuses in the world. They don’t know about office politics, job titles, or entitlement. If someone moves too aggressively in their direction, they might flatten their ears, or turn away. If they perceive you as a threat, they will remain elusive to catching. They only pay attention to what we do around them, and what they do with each other—actions.
One thing we’ve noticed happens in every workshop where we partner with the horses, without exception, is that the participants can not help but to stay in the present moment. It’s hard to daydream or drift off thinking about your next meeting when you’ve got 400-1,100 pound animals around you. Watching what they are doing and interacting with them forces you to pay attention, and to find non-verbal ways to communicate your intentions.
The same level of “noticing” can be achieved in a meeting room. If you are making a presentation, build in questions or ways to get feedback from your audience. This is a great (and easy) was to make sure you pause to notice how they are responding to your presentation, and gives you an opportunity to adjust if necessary. When working with someone on your own team with whom communication can be difficult, try using a mirroring technique. This is where you rephrase and repeat back to them what you’ve understood them to say to you.
Regardless of how you decide to do it, everyone can make improvements in the area of noticing what’s going on around them. Name one situation or person with whom you interact where you know you would benefit from being more present and paying closer attention to the unspoken cues you’re getting. Decide to try something different. Keep us posted… we want to know how it goes!