It was 6am on a freezing January morning. We were standing on the bridge in total darkness, shouting at each other. Shouting because the River Dart was in full spate, roaring only a few feet below us.
We had been given the brief. “Get one of your team over the side of the bridge, under it, and back up the other side. He has to remain attached to a safety rope throughout the exercise. Everything you need is in the van.”
We were a disaster. We spent an hour coming up with ideas and then shooting them down. “That will never work”. We used safety as a cover up for our fear. Never even got the stuff out of the van.
When we debriefed afterwards we got the dressing down of our lives. A bunch of useless ditherers, not an ounce of Leadership between us.
Two days later, on the same Leadership course, I found myself deep underground in a pothole. A group of six of us, plus a leader at the front and one bringing up the rear. Somehow I got split away from the group. Their voices faded into the distance, and I realised I was alone. The battery on my headlamp stated to go weak, but I could see that ahead of me was a small hole, with a pool of water at the bottom of it. I realised that to get through it would require me to put my head underwater and push through whilst holding my breath. I either had to do it or sit there whimpering whilst they came back to get me. I did it.
I remember the rest of the week in similar detail (it was 23 years ago, by the way).
The cold dormitories, the early starts every day, the feeling of putting on wet clothes every morning. I don’t like swimming much, and I remember the kayaking exercise very well. They made you get into it on the river bank, and launch yourself in. I was saying to myself “Whatever you do, don’t capsize when you launch.” I launched, and ten seconds later found myself upside down in freezing water, my head actually in a nice rich layer of mud. “Two options here, buddy. Wait for help, or get out, quickly.”
I got out.
How come I can remember that week in such vivid detail? How come it is by far the most memorable training I have experienced in a career full of it?
I think I know the answer. It’s because it was so emotional. We were scared, exhilarated, proud, angry, embarassed, in varying degrees off and on throughout the whole week. It was THE emotional roller coaster of a course, and as I say, I’ve never forgotten it.
I’m not suggesting that we all have to get cold and wet in order to remember things, but it does maybe explain why so much “stuff” washes over us and never makes any impact. Too much corporate communication is sterile, bereft of emotion, meaningless. If we do not connect with the emotions in some way, we shouldn’t be surprised when our audience shrugs its shoulders and moves on.
Here’s a little exercise to prove the point. Close your eyes (not yet, when you finish reading this, otherwise you won’t know what to do!), and let yourself go back in your mind to the best holiday you ever had. Ask yourself what you can see, hear, feel, smell. What time is it? What’s the temperature? Who are you with? How are you feeling? Let your brain colour in the picture for you for a moment or two.
Right, now ask yourself what you were doing last Thursday. Is that a bit more of a struggle? Why do you remember the holiday in such vivid detail? Because it was emotional (you were probably happy).
Action for the week: add more emotion into your communication. Let go a bit. Be more real, more human.
What’s the most memorable moment been for you on any training course you’ve been on? What emotions were at play? Let’s see if my theory is correct.