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Lean Into Pressure


What if you leaned into the pressure of conflict?

I know it sounds crazy. So let me explain.

Horses and Emotional Intelligence

I am in my third month Equus Coach Training with Koelle Simpson. I am early in building my relationship with horses. However, I am impressed. These are some amazing animals.

Let’s just say on a physical level, gorgeous, powerful, and neurologically quite sensitive. On a spiritual level, well, there’s a reason these animals are in so many mythology stories, are symbols of mystery, and considered majestic.But what really surprises me, and why I wanted to write about them today, is that they have an amazingly keen sense of emotional intelligence, which makes them excellent mentors for reading, and working with, conflict.

Zone of Awareness

Horses are prey animals. So, let’s be clear, they aren’t ever looking for a fight. They are however, always scanning and reading their environment for signs of danger. They have a sophisticated zone of awareness, meaning they notice the instant someone comes into the pasture. They read that person behaviorally, energetically, and emotionally from a significant distance, and make decisions to move, flee, or to be on alert.

Zone of Pressure

Once someone moves in closer, they enter the horse’s zone of pressure. This puts the horse on high alert. You would think that the horse, as a prey animal would run away. However, under pressure a horse will lean in.

This comes from years of survival of the fittest. The equine species learned that when under attack, or when a predator gets it’s claws into the horse’s side, the horse must lean in to prevent the predator from ripping the skin. This leaning in is life saving.

Now, you might be wondering where am I going with this. For years, I have encouraged leaders and teams to lean in to conflict. I have witnessed that when leaders and teams do this, it consistently leads to better, more creative results. However, I am often met with resistance.

As humans there is such a natural tendency to want to avoid, deny, or bully through issues, instead of leaning in. We aren’t horses. However, if we want to reap the benefits of conflict, which unavoidably arises when two or more are gathered, maybe we should learn a few things from these amazing animals.

Three Steps to Leaning In to Conflict

One: What is Your Zone of Awareness?

Notice when you start picking up the signs and signals of people’s energy and behavior around you. Maybe you could practice looking for these signs and signals earlier, before the situation gets into the zone of pressure or escalation.

Two: Don’t Assume, Test and Check

When reading signs and signals from others in your zone of awareness, don’t assume you know the intention of what someone is doing. Horses test and check. Make sure you explicitly check it out.In working with the horses, it is clear that they want a relationship with me, and will do quite a lot to give me information when I am not clear or when they need more space. I have to say though, unlike humans, rarely do they resort to bullying or avoiding.

Three: Under Pressure, Lean In

Finally, when the under pressure horses literally lean in. At that point, there is no fleeing or fighting. No, there is surprisingly, a surrender.In our human interactions, I believe surrendering could help us as well. Meaning in that zone of pressure or escalation, what if you surrendered, suspended our own agenda, leaned in and became curious about what was going on with other person and their point of view? I know, that may not be our natural instinct.

However, in terms of evolving to a new way of being and leading, I think this would be a transformational move, creating innovative and powerful results. But hey, why don’t you try it and get back to us on how it worked for you?


CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Check out their website: www.thriveinc.com. Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Find your copy of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage here.



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