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Leading by Fergi – Lesson #4: What the Heck Are You Saying?!

FergiYou might think that after 11 years of agility training, seven of them with Fergi, we’d be masters of the sport, covered in ribbons and accolades, our picture on the cover of Clean Run magazine (a publication dedicated to the sport of dog agility), but that’s not how it works. At every class we learn new techniques (or “moves”) and hone skills that help the handler be a better communicator with her partner. I communicate with Fergi on an obstacle course by giving her proper hand signals and body positioning, and by accelerating (tells her to go fast) or decelerating (collect – there are some tricky turns coming up). The better I communicate, the faster we run as a team, and the more successful we are at completing the course correctly, without errors, and under time.

Sounds pretty easy … it’s not. Just the slightest wave of my arm can throw her off in the wrong direction. The way my feet are pointing can make the difference between taking the wrong obstacle over the right obstacle.

Communication can also be tricky on the job. When I ask for something “ASAP,” would you agree that this means “get it done in 15 minutes or less”? Probably not. When someone says, “We should probably order more computer paper,” does that mean they are requesting that I order more computer paper? I hope not, because I didn’t. And the last time I checked, a response of “sounds good” to a request isn’t really a promise to do something. I’ve seen a lot of messy language and communication in the workplace every day (including my own) and this messiness is sending people off in the wrong direction, over the wrong obstacles!

There is no such thing as perfection, but there are a few things everyone could do to be better communicators. First, slow down. We are moving so fast, we aren’t even paying attention to what’s coming out of our mouths. Second, don’t assume anything. Just because you’ve worked with someone for 10 years, it doesn’t mean they’re a mind reader. Third, get confirmation of understanding. Say something like, “Just to be clear, are you saying …” Don’t leave room for misunderstanding.

If you work on these three practices, I won’t promise you a blue ribbon, but I will promise that you will have a better chance of completing your obstacle course correctly, with less errors, and under time. And, as they say in the dog ring, here’s to a “clean” run!

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