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Helping teams communicate and putting a stop to bullying

17 September 2014

Sue Spence communication specialist

Sue Spence who owns and runs Horses Helping Humans is in the midst of writing her first book. She has approximately 41,000 words down on paper of her story of transformation. Her publisher Pan MacMillan wants 80,000 words and to launch the book in time for Mother’s Day next year.

“The book is all about how I  use horses in my work with body language and boundaries and self-confidence,” Sue explains, quick to point out that she is not a therapist but a communication coach, "teaching people about body language and personality profiling and awareness around how to communicate”.

Six years ago Sue set up a not-for-profit program for street kids and troubled youths through the Wesley Mission Youth program. Continuing government cuts in welfare mean the program is struggling to keep going but the number of disadvantaged youth and street kids who need the service has not dwindled.

Beating bullies

Sue is also working with adults and corporates at Gwingana Health Retreat in Queensland's Tallebudgera Valley where she also lives. The corporate work has become important in Sue’s quest to keep her charity work going. She also says that the amount of stress adults are under in corporations and work places from bullying is horrifying. (Sue is also crowd funding to raise funds for the youth programs.)

According to Sue and other communication experts, the effectiveness of a verbal instruction has a lot to do with non-verbal cues, which account for around 60 to 80 percent of communication. Tone, inflection and words make up the difference.

Words, points out Sue, convey information, but body language expresses our attitudes and intent: are we comfortable and in control? Do we feel safe with someone, respect them? Theses cues come through body language.

“Body language can be an incredibly powerful tool, but often we don't know how to use it effectively. Often our body language and our words are at odds with one another. We might be mouthing the word ‘no’ but if our shoulders are hunched and in front of our hips, the signal to others is that we can be persuaded to say ‘yes’, and even worse, just walked all over,” explains Sue.

“The disrespectful extrovert is all hips and swagger. They steam roller people with their I’m-in-charge-bullying ways. If what they really want to be is effective leaders then all they have to do to offer safety and security is breathe out and relax. It stops them from appearing intimidating.

“For the introvert,” continues Sue, “if they want to be heard and to be effective, they must behave as if they were a puffer fish, push their hips forward in front of their shoulders, arms out away from the sides and breathe between their sentences it slows things down and reduces the anxiety that makes others and themselves feel so uncomfortable.”

A keen horse person, Sue says horses have similar personality traits to people and are often attuned to our energy and body language. Witnessing different horse behaviour is often reflective of our own interactions with others and it’s an effective way to see what works and doesn’t work when we are trying to communicate.

“I was bullied badly when I was young,” admits Sue. “I’ve always had a tendency to be on alert, to watch people’s body language and be aware of their energy. You need to for your own survival. For many years I was in the fitness industry running gyms and lifestyle programs. One of the programs was called HELP: Health, Education, Lifestyle Progam. It centred on self-esteem, body language and how to read people,” explains Sue, who says it was very successful.

Then 11 years ago, Sue was diagnosed with breast cancer. To help her get over the acute fear and anxiety the cancer scare left with her and rebuild her confidence, Sue began learning ‘natural horsemanship’.

It rebalanced her.

Sue found she was calmer and felt completely different. She wanted to share her discovery about personality types and body language and how making subtle shifts in the latter to effectively communicate with others without the use of words could bring about remarkable changes. And that is where horses entered the picture. They became visual examples of how when we use the correct body language we can influence and take control of situations without bullying or resorting to anger and intimidation or running away.

“When you can put a name to why you don’t feel safe around certain people or why you are not heard in the group, it helps change the dynamics of your interactions in the group and the team’s interactions,” says Sue.

“Each personality type has its own body language. I teach people to identify what their personality type is and the body language they have and how to use it effectively,” finishes Sue.