Monday, September 23, 2013

Knowledge Speaks, But Wisdom Listens: Ideas for Running Business Teambuilding Training Using Alpacas

I just had a brainstorm how using alpacas to host business team-building training camps.  It would be great way for business to learn important interpersonal skills.  Managers and supervisors as well as employees could learn a lot by working with alpacas for a day or two.  If a survey is done in most companies, I'd bet money that the first item that would be identified as needing worked would be "Communication."  I love that term.  It is so ambiguous yet everyone thinks each other knows what the other is talking about, yet we rarely grasp the true intent of what is being said.  That old "telephone" game comes to mind where one person whispers a sentence or two in someone's ear who then whispers it to the next person and so on.  The statement comes back as something totally different by the time it comes back to the original person. 

When I was working in an office setting and had to go through effective communication classes, most of the exercises involved learning how to make better statements.  Learning how to be assertive is all valuable, but I was struck that I rarely experienced any training on the other very important element of communication.  Listening is as important a skill or perhaps more so than saying something clearly.  We are a society of terrible listeners.  That skill is becoming more and more absent with technology it seems.  I remember a leader at the place I worked who defined being a good listener as making sure the employees listened to us managers when we communicated with them.  Argh!  It was funny yet sad because I ventured to say that many others interpreted the definition of listening that way.  No wonder communication is always what comes up as needing to be worked.

How would working with alpacas help someone learn to communicate better?  Alpacas can't speak English last time I checked.  They hum and although I can interpret some of their hums, it wouldn't help with business communication issues.  But, because they don't use the English language, people can't use their words to communicate with an alpaca.  If I had an exercise of having two or three workers from supervisors to worker bees having to collaborate together WITHOUT using any verbal or written communication to move an alpaca or herd from one place to another, how would they go about it?  They'd have to use their body language.  Not only would they need to use body language and learn to listen more carefully to each other, they would have to observe and listen to the alpacas' body language.  The participants would start recognizing signals from each other.  Is someone irritated because they weren't being listened to?  Is someone that would normally be overbearing in their words become on more equal footing because they have no words to drown out the others?  So much could be gleaned and discussed afterwards in helping that so important yet deteriorating skill of listening by working with alpacas.  I know my listener has improved dramatically by working with them. 

To enhance listening even better, teaching people how to catch and hold an alpaca using my positive reinforcement techniques would be very valuable.  First, learning to catch means being respectful of the alpaca being caught.  I use catch pens and because I know that an alpaca can't get very far away if they are in the catch pen, I let them "get away" from me until I can tell they are starting to relax.  Then I use my body language to steer the alpaca to a corner.  Some have a favorite spot they prefer to be caught.  I want them to know they can escape if they need to in the beginning and after a few laps circling about, they realize the gig is up and they stop.  I can walk up quietly and calmly, gently touching their neck to hold them.  Once caught, I would show the business camp attendees how to hold the alpaca and maintain the alpacas balance.  When one is the holder they have several jobs.  One is to make sure the person trimming nails or performing the treatment is safe.  Second, they are responsible for keeping the alpaca calm.  The main way to do that is to keep the alpaca standing in balance.  They also need to feel the alpacas body to know how stressed they are and work at breathing and staying calm themselves.  The alpaca being held will feel that and calm too, but if the person holding is scared, stressed, and not fully breathing, that information is being communicated to the alpaca and what the alpaca hears is that it should be scared.  As managers and leaders, if you are needing your employees to follow you, wouldn't you need to follow the example of the alpaca holder to get your employees to feel your confidence in what you are communicating to them? 

If nothing else, if people just learned that listening is a really good skill to learn.  It would improve the workplace settings plus it sure wouldn't hurt in other interpersonal relationships!

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