Recently, I had the honour to speak to the members of Llama Canada at their annual conference. Also presenting was an expert in camelid communication, Marty McGee-Bennett. In case you wonder, camelid is the family name which includes llamas, alpacas, and camels.
Marty presented a 2-day workshop to help the association members learn skills to work effectively with their animals. She was very clear that this was not about training the llamas. The llamas are extremely smart, they know what to do. The challenge is training the handler.
It occurred to me that the techniques Marty was using were basics of human communication, and the way she presented them helped me to understand some key techniques I can use for building effective relationships and teams.
You may be thinking, “You’ve been spending too much time chewing your cud, buddy. You’ve got llama wool stuck between your ears.”
That may be true but hear me out anyway.
Marty’s 4 secrets for communicating with llamas:
1. Be the optimistic leader
2. Build rapport
3. Help them stay in balance
4. Celebrate success
Here’s how the same communication secrets work with people.
1. Be the optimistic leader. Most people in our world are not leaders, and yet I believe that all people have the ability to become leaders. Like most things in life, it is a choice. Leadership requires confidence and courage to step out of our “familiar zone” and to do something in a different way – rather than “the way it’s always been done.” It takes honesty and commitment to try things, learn from each experience, make corrections, and do something different again. In my mind, failures do not exist. Mistakes happen, they can be corrected, and a lesson is always available. Leaders learn the lessons and apply them. Leadership entails being consciously in-tune with the emotions of others and using the indicators (body language, tone of voice, and words) to keep the mood of the team positive, regardless of the situation. An optimistic leader constantly chooses a positive state of mind, or attitude, to be the popular contagion for the team.
Yes, there are, and have been leaders who have controlled others by fear and manipulation to gain power. In the llama pen, guess who wins in the end? It’s not the two-legged.
2. Build rapport. Effective communication cannot occur unless we create an environment where others feel safe in our presence. This is opposite to conflict, which occurs because someone is feeling unsafe or threatened. Rapport is never about what the other person says or does; it is always our own choice to treat others in a way they would like to be treated. When we treat others in a kind and respectful way, they don’t feel cornered or attacked. Instead, they feel amiable and motivated to be a part of our team. It can also be very helpful to allow them a safe and controlled escape route, to leave the relationship or back-off a bit, just in case their past experiences and beliefs are not ready to accept our love.
Marty suggested a little trick for building rapport. We all know how to do this, yet may withhold if we are feeling stressed or out-of-rapport. Want to know the trick? It works with llamas and people. Breathe. That’s right – go ahead and breathe deeply again, it feels good and releases tension.
3. Help them stay in balance. There is a category of llamas with a condition Marty called BMS (Berzerk Male Syndrome). If you are a woman, do you think you can get mileage out of that?
The balky llamas may do a lot of resisting and pulling away. This is not a state of balance. So it is with people, if we haven’t developed rapport. As leaders, we have some choices. We can wrap a rope around them and drag them where we want them to go. How well does that work? You can bet they will be kicking and fighting the whole way. Will either person feel balanced, grounded, centred, or safe? I doubt it.
Or we can use our eyes, ears, and heart to sense when they are slightly off-balance, and immediately guide them back to balance through the use of our words and actions. We make gentle corrections before the situation gets out of hand. These corrections are not about “telling” the person what they “need”, “should”, or “must” do. “Fixing it” for them doesn’t work either. I don’t like to be told what to do, or to be rescued, especially if I am feeling out-of-balance. Do you? A more effective way is to “ask” about their options, possibilities, and solutions and then listen. Their answers are always within themselves, and the quality of their answers is dependent upon the quality of our questions.
Balance means feeling good about our work, family, and community life, and as leaders, we can choose to enhance the experience for ourselves and others as we learn and grow.
4. Celebrate success. These are 2 ambiguous words that I won’t even try to define. Can we agree that both words are about creating emotional highs or good feelings? If so, we can choose to celebrate success many times a day in everything we do. As we celebrate our successes, our attitude improves, we become more optimistic leaders, we build rapport easily and quickly, we stay in balance and encourage others to do the same. And then we get to celebrate more success with others. It can be an ever-increasing upward spiral.
You may not work with llamas but I know you communicate with people regularly. I can’t train people to be a good human being and you can’t do it either. That’s a fact.
My challenge for you, should you choose to accept it, is to focus your communication training on the person you can control – that amazing person you see in the mirror. Apply these 4 secrets, celebrate your success, and savour the good feelings you create. Life can be so good!
Come to think of it, in some ways you are like a llama. You are extremely smart, and you know what to do.