Sure, as a horse person I like to sneak in horses as much as I can when blogging about writing at work, but it works, as you’ll continue to see… 🙂

I recently volunteered as a horse handler for Leadership with Horses. It took 6½ hours of driving to get there and back to be there for 5½ hours. Why then did I do it? I was intrigued. Horses have much to teach us and I wanted to know how that would play out with leadership training.

Because I was a horse handler, I was with the horses, and I missed out on the discussions between Amanda, the facilitator, and the participants. That meant I missed out on that aspect of the workshop. But even without that insight, the lessons the team learned while working with the horses were obvious.

Because the fact is, horses are like half-ton mirrors reflecting our behaviors back to us. If you want to know more about someone, watch them interact with a horse.

But my biggest takeaway was the importance of body language…and how that’s missing from writing at work.

Body Language, Body Language, Body Language

Horses don’t use words. They communicate with each other and with us through body language and facial expressions. And their communication is usually crystal clear, if you know how to read it.

That makes them masters at reading our body language too, even the most subtle of movements or changes that we aren’t aware of.

A horse will know your mood even if you don’t, and they will mirror it back to you. For example, I have a riding student with anxiety issues. At the start of each lesson, she does a little groundwork with the horse, Opie. I learn what her mood and energy level are that day not by watching her but by watching Opie’s reaction to her.

Similarly, I could see proof of the effectiveness of the teamwork by watching the horses. The participants in the leadership training had to rely on body language alone to move horses around the arena and even through an obstacle course—without touching the horses. They weren’t even supposed to talk to each other. Their teamwork was impressive as they figured it all out! They got the job done every time!

The horses? They were reading the people, as individuals and as teams…because they are the masters of body language and intention.

55% of Verbal Communication Is Through Body Language

So why am I telling you all this? What do body language and horses have to do with writing at work?

Because we don’t get to use body language in our writing at work which makes our writing that much more important as a communications tool.

When we are communicating in person, words are a tiny fraction of how that communicating gets done. The 55-38-7 rule says verbal communication is:

  • 55% body language
  • 38% facial expression
  • 7% words

This breakdown is applicable to people communicating face-to-face, not through writing, but we can still see the huge role body language and facial expression play in communication—and we have neither when writing at work.

Do we give up on emails and other written communications then, like this blog post? Do we throw in the towel and quit trying because we are so limited by having words alone as our tool?

Quite the opposite: We simply work harder at writing well, keeping in mind that we are relying on words alone to convey everything.

And when we slow down, practice the four Rs, seek to understand and cut the clutter, we improve our writing at work and make the most of it.

Back to the Body Language

horse memeTo help you understand how much we rely on body language to communicate, try avoiding spoken words when you can as an experiment. At home, I’ve been seeing how much I can communicate to my husband without speaking. It turns out that I can skip the words much of the time but still get my message across. (The flip side of that is how much unintended communication happens via body language and facial expression, oops!)

Give it a try for a day or two. Then once you’ve taken that lesson to heart, pay attention to your writing at work, staying mindful of how much harder it is to communicate with words alone.

And if I can help you improve your writing skills to make up for the lack of body language, just ask. That’s why I’m here!

As for the horses, mine never read my emails anyway…

Horse photo by Jean Alves:

Sharon Ernst is a retired freelance copywriter now on a mission to improve the business and marketing writing skills of today’s workforce with her blog, newsletter and online classes.