Elephants and mice

Since beginning my adventures as a would-be equine learning facilitator, the lesson I’ve found that we teach most frequently is the difference between introverts and extroverts.  It feels strange to say it, because once people learn this lesson, they tend to wonder why they missed it previously, but sometimes you can’t see the elephant in the room for looking.  Even I didn’t realise some of the most important factors before I began using ponies to demonstrate these facts, but here’s the thing…

Broadly speaking, a person is either introverted or extroverted (a little more on that next week, if you’ve got the interest following this post!).  To stereotype, this means that introverts prefer their own company, whereas extroverts need other people like we all need oxygen.  That’s probably where the understanding ends for most people.  We tend to think, “oh, so-and-so just isn’t a people person, I’ll go and talk to someone else”, but the problem is that avoidance isn’t always an option.  Sometimes, there isn’t the practical chance to allow the introverts to decompress immediately, because we all have lives to lead!  But therein lies the second problem: only seeing one solution to it.

Fortunately, horses are a great physical demonstration of differences in processing and different methods of problem-solving.  Many horsey people will quickly label certain equines as “stubborn” or “lazy”, much as we do with particular people we find difficult to cope with… have you ever considered that it could just be because you haven’t stopped to try and understand that person?

Introverts have a tendency to require a greater deal of processing time than extroverts.  Even when faced with seemingly simple questions such as, “what would you like to drink?”, an introvert may seem completely lost.  There are at least two ways to handle this particular situation: ask them the above question and leave them to think about it, or give them a short list of choices from which they may make a selection.  If there are two (if not more!) clear options to such a straightforward question, how many other methods of getting through could there be when the situation is more complicated?

It’s also not critical to always be subtle when handling an introvert in this manner – sometimes it’s a bonus if you clearly demonstrate that you are intentionally giving them time and space to think.  You can even set a parameter, something like, “I need this information by the end of the day”.  Though, let’s not get into the can of worms that is why you’d need such a quick turnaround, that’s a whole other level of poor management!

The bottom line is this: know where you identify within these categories, and learn where the people you deal with – whether they’re family, friends or colleagues – fit.  Then consider how you communicate with those people, and wait to see the positive change as a result.  You might suddenly spot a lot of elephants.

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