Are your communications really communicating?

I'm still buzzing from the thrill of being at the final glorious day of Olympic Dressage. As horse and rider seemingly danced around the arena, I heard so many people asking "How do they do it?"

As a rider I know it involves hours of training, technical understanding and skill. But even more crucially there must be trust and communication. 

Those moments of harmony between horse and rider are one of the true joys of riding for me.

The horse doesn't have to do what you ask - if you get into a battle of strength with a horse to get what you want, you will lose as they always have the size and strength advantage. You need to build up the horses’ confidence and trust that you are not going to do anything that hurts or scares them and communicate what you want in a way they understand if you hope to have a partner working with you rather than against you.

Don't stop reading if you're not interested in learning to ride - I think there is a much wider lesson to learn here about the communication within organisations.

Unsurprisingly, being The Safety Elf, I am going to reflect on how organisations typically communicate health and safety messages.

  • Using the whip – a ‘Do as we say or face the consequences’ approach
  • A battle of wills isn’t always the best approach with people or horses. You need to take time to understand the perspective from all who are involved and impacted by the decisions if you hope to get buy-in and a sense of ownership in the outcome.
  • Being inconsistent – or ‘Do it this way when the boss is looking’  
  • You won’t get a perfect 10 in a dressage test if you do something different every time you practice a technical dressage movement. People won’t behave in the way your safety systems prescribe if there is no consistent message that everyone does it the right way everytime, no matter who they are or who is looking.
  • I’ve told them there’s a problem - but it makes no difference  
  • People and horses work best when they feel valued. If people feel that their voice isn’t heard when it comes to decisions about safety, they are much less likely to respond to the rules in the way you expect or to let you know when there are issues that really do need your attention.
  • Creatures of habit        
  • Horses and people are creatures of habit, so don’t underestimate the impact (and resistance) when introducing changes.

These are just a few examples – I hope you will share some of your own. 

If you would like to know more about the psychology of risk, then I recommend you check out the work of Dr Robert Long.

In summary – I recommend adding ‘horse sense’ to your common sense!

I look forward to hearing your thoughts…

The Safety Elf