Skittish

Every now and again, jewels emerge from random conversations. I’m deeply grateful to the estimable Steve Done for giving me this one.

We were discussing the challenges of creating the safe space for new clients to discuss topics that are outside of their comfort zones, and Steve came up with a metaphor.

As background, Steve is a long standing colleague and coach with a penchant for horses. A means of transport with no safety equipment, no brakes, no gearbox and perilously vague steering.

We ended up talking about how to handle “skittish” horses – those with whom a bond of trust has not yet been built, and who will react unpredictably to unfamiliar or what are perceived as threatening inputs.

He explained that the approach is to start with profound respect for the horse, and to give it just enough – and no more – input sufficient for the horse to understand what you are trying to get it to do, and come to terms with it. Too much pressure, and you end up sitting uncomfortably in the mud (the horse is happy to fight you all day if needed); too little, and it gets frustrated because it has nothing to respond to. In the latter case, it will do what it feels like.

For me, it painted a momentary but perfect picture of mistakes I have made with clients, and a memorable metaphor when working with new ones.

Pay attention to the pressure you are creating. Just enough, no more. Enable the client to learn at their own pace. Not the one we’d like them to.

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