As I watched Robin Williams in the movie “RV,” I paused and replayed a dozen times the section where he tries to prove he is a cool dad to his son. They were on a lonely basketball court at a state park with two other boys they had come across. They looked like troublemakers and were nothing like his son, which only encouraged the father to show how cool he could be.
If you don’t know the actor, I can tell you he was a genius. He connected his brain and mouth as few others would ever be able to do. In addition, he was good at rapping, and so, to be cool, he started to rap to the two strangers.
In the middle of this rap, Robin holds up his hand, palm out towards them, and says, “Talk to the hand!” an expression that is common and means that whatever you are saying to me, I’m not interested in hearing about it.
But then Robin instantly flips his hand around, so the palm now faces him and says, “Call waiting!” For those who don’t know, telephone calls have an option where a person can place a person on hold while they go off to do something else. So they are placed on call waiting. They instantly recognize how I work with horses I have never seen before.
Horses seeing me for the first time often trigger a bad memory. These horses want to tell me their story, sometimes in very explicit terms. Their story could be this – the last man who came into my stall was a vet, and he put a sharp needle in my neck, and it hurt! They start to connect me as a man and a vet, and he starts to think about the pain and fear associated with that visit.
I say, “Talk to the hand!” I am not interested in his story. I don’t reward his behavior of fear, doubt and worry by coaching him with words like, “It’ll be OK” or “I’m not here to hurt you.” It’s probably what the last guy said before jabbing the needle into his neck.
Then I say, “Call waiting,” which conveys to the horse that I am NOT that man and I am NOT that vet. I am here to build a new and different conversation with a fresh perspective. This one event, on my part, tells the horse that I am deeply listening to him. More importantly, I am not rooted in the past, but I am completely in the moment, building a relationship with fresh perspectives on solid ground. This recognition by horses is immediate for most horses. It leaves horse owners in disbelief and speechless, often making owners cry tears of joy.
The horse wants someone to listen and be in the moment. If we don’t, the horse immediately goes to a library of experiences and determines the next course of action, which can happen in a quick moment. So instead, I offer them a chance to create a new story by acknowledging their past only momentarily but remaining solidly in the present. Horses love this and will make a new connection with me that, over time, becomes lasting.
Try this sometime when you meet a stranger. I did this once with a man behind the counter at a convenience store. His face and actions told me I was just another customer on a long day at the counter. So I started a new relationship by asking him where he was from. He said, “India.” I replied, “Wow, you’re a long way from home from a country that has the longest democracy in existence!”
He did not expect this reply, and for a full minute, we discussed the similarities between the democracies in the US and India. Just one minute! Then I returned to the car at the gas pump, where I got in and closed the door. Melissa was there and said, “Oh no! What did you do now?” I looked up, and the man was trotting to my car. I wasn’t afraid, and I rolled down my window as he got to me. With delight in his eyes, he said to me, “Thank you so much for taking the time to make me feel at home here. I just couldn’t let you go without you knowing how much I appreciated our short conversation.”
No lie – call Melissa to verify! But that is how powerful the “Talk to the hand – call waiting” approach to meeting a stranger can be. It works, but it takes practice. Give it a try.