Lessons in Non-Verbal Communication

Equine Assisted Learning – Lessons in Non-Verbal Communication
By Julia M. Coleman

 “Our mission is to bring horses and humans together to increase awareness,
understanding, and empathy reaching toward developing healthy relationships.”  
– Kaleidoscope Learning Center, LLC 

Dr. Tracy Weber, founder of KLC, invited a select group of executives out to her Birch Run, Michigan farm to encounter first hand, the interesting dynamic on display in this one-of-a-kind experiential education experience.  Dr. Weber, along with her herd, has created an opportunity for humans to explore their leadership and communication styles in an environment that removes all the usual props.    In fact, the “props” in use at KLC are not props at all but interactive partners – i.e. horses.  After years of intense Masters and Doctorate study, Dr. Weber has developed an Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) environment that partners horses with humans in the never-ending quest to realize our full potential. 

EAL uses horses as facilitators allowing humans to learn more about their own style by interpreting the feedback they receive during various equine interactions.  They are essentially basic, honest and authentic in their human encounters. 

“Horses offer a genuine interpretation of reality, not as we wish it to be, but rather, as it is, without bias, manipulation, or hidden human agendas,” offers Dr. Weber.  They have no career plans of their own, and they bring no emotional baggage to these encounters that might influence their interpretation of the day’s events, unlike their human counterparts.  So the human participants must become keenly aware of how to communicate plans and instructions to creatures that define success as “readily available hay and water”. 

Our first quick group exercise was simply to enter the field where the Kaleidoscope horses were quietly grazing and, without speaking, begin to interact with the horses.  We could not verbally communicate with the horses, nor could we speak to each other.  As we entered the paddock, the curious horses approached.   The six Kaleidoscope trainers included an enormous grey draft mare, some adult geldings and mares, and two knee-high miniature horses.  

Horses are reactive and their innate sensitivities are used at KLC to mirror the human participants’ aura.  As the equines approached, their behavior reflected the attitude that each of the human participants were conveying.  Without uttering a word, it was clear who was comfortable being around these gentle giants and who was cautious and who was afraid.  The horses briefly investigated each participant, but intuitively gravitated toward those who welcomed the quiet physical interaction with them. 

Other exercises followed, including one requiring us to devise a plan and elicit cooperation from our herd as well as each other.  We were allowed just a few short minutes to plan together as a team, but once we were “on the clock” there was no more speaking allowed without a consequence.    Again, the challenge was to interact with the horses and each other – nonverbally – in order to achieve success.  

Most humans in leadership positions are quite comfortable with directing others with instructions, exhortations, and admonishments – all done with the complementary voice inflection that supports that notion.  This exercise was particularly effective in demonstrating how we might need to take more non-verbal cues once we return to our respective work environments.  Leadership is not all talk!  It does include cooperative non-verbal communication as well.  The four-legged facilitators at KLC, with their straightforward sensitivities, made us acutely aware of how critical non-verbal communication can be.  Some studies have suggested that our human communication is as much as 90% non-verbal.

Dr. Weber fashioned her EAL program as an interactive learning experience – learning by doing, with reflection afterward.  The professional programs offered at KLC can help identify the gap between intent and result that nearly all of us encounter in the workplace.  It is difficult, if not counter productive, to demand cooperation from creatures who outweigh us and can outrun us.  It is far more rewarding to affect a desired outcome via meaningful interaction within the confines of the team.  The same guiding principles can and should be applied in our corporate environments.  Dr. Weber and her horses will happily assist you in conveying this to your work team. 

For more information about Kaleidoscope Learning Center, Dr. Tracy Weber, and Equine Assisted Learning, please visit:   http://www.myklc.com/.

Speak Your Mind