The nuances of communicating do matter
Grace was out of control. In a happy way.
She bounded into the agility room on Friday and all bets were off for getting her attention. She wanted to greet the other two dogs. Say hello to her favorite trainer, Rachel. She jumped over the hurdles. Ran through the chute. Leapt over the A Frame. It was hard to keep up with where she was going next. She was as excited and as full of energy as I have seen her there.
She has definitely enjoyed our recent visits to agility class. But it seemed that this day was extraordinarily blissful for her. It required every skill I knew to keep her engaged in what we should be doing. Even the string cheese and duck-flavored savory treats weren’t enough to maintain her focus!
Have you ever tried to communicate with someone who has absolutely no interest in what you have to say? That’s what I felt like with Grace.
While she was bouncing off the walls, I had a revelation. One of the exercises was a front cross maneuver. As Grace exited the tunnel, I was to come in front of her and direct her to the other side. I’ve mentioned this particular technique before and we’ve done it many, many times in class. Performing the ‘front cross’ is not difficult. Yet because it’s in the middle of so many other things you’re doing, the subtleties can get lost.
However, something ‘clicked’ for me and I realized the importance of using every available aspect of communicating with Grace to keep her attention. First, I needed to be near the tunnel exit, I had to make eye contact immediately, move with her to the tire jump, call out “TIRE!” and then use my body placement and arm gesture to direct her correctly. Even knowing the importance of every aspect, I didn’t do so well on my first try. I didn’t make eye contact and I was too far away from the tire given the unique, sharp angle of the desired turn. Grace moved to my right instead of my left, missing the tire.
Rachel asked us to try it again, reminding me of the things that I had not done. This time, it worked and Grace performed beautifully! It’s not enough to say the word or just move to the next obstacle. Ensuring that I had her undivided attention was critical: it takes more than just one way to deliver a message effectively. Just like when we communicate with people.
In order to ensure that the other person correctly receives any message, we have to think of so many things – while we’re in the middle of a bunch of other things! We might be thinking about the person we’re talking to, or how we need to move to the next task awaiting us, or we might be annoyed at the noise in the adjoining room that continually distracts us. There are a multitude of things that could be demanding our attention.
So it becomes immensely difficult to be 100% present at every single moment. Yet when we get distracted, that’s the likely moment when our communication can get flawed. Perhaps we didn’t hear what the other person said. Or we missed the item that the speaker pointed to during a presentation. Did their voice provide a clue for their true feeling that was missed as we “listened”?
Our agility class helped me see the impact between crystal clear communication and “almost clear” communication. It made the difference of whether Grace understood my intended message. I’d be interested to hear examples that you would be willing to share of communication that has been effective, and perhaps, not-so-effective. What did you do that had an impact on the outcome?