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External Relationship Management: Developing Social Facility

A client’s ability to successfully negotiate the spectrum of social awareness concepts does not guarantee fruitful interactions. Just because they get what someone’s thinking or intending doesn’t mean they’re able to react appropriately or effectively. Social facility is need- ed to build on social awareness to allow smooth, effective interactions. Knowing and correctly interpreting what’s going on is only the first step; social facility takes us through the rest of the interaction.

According to Goleman (2006), the spectrum of social facility includes:
 Synchrony: Interacting smoothly at the nonverbal level
• Self-presentation: Presenting ourselves effectively
• Influence: Shaping the outcome of social interactions|
• Concern: Caring about others’ needs and acting accordingly. (p. 84)

Much of the work in EAP-EAL takes place in the realm of synchrony, or its opposite, dyssemia, a deficit in our capacity to read non-verbal signs (Goleman, 2006, p.91). We often see dyssemia in the form of a “social blind spot” with autism/autism spectrum disorder (ASD) clients; I suspect we’ll see it more and more as clients lose opportunity for face-to-face communication and hence have less practice in reading non-verbal signs (email, texting, and chatting require no non-verbal skill!). Synchrony, on the other hand, is as simple (and complex) as successfully shaking another person’s hand. Have you ever felt “off” in your timing when you’ve offered your hand to another? Have you ever thought someone was reaching to shake your hand when actually he wanted to hug? Have you ever felt the other person hold your hand too long? That’s all about synchrony. Nearly all equine-assisted psychotherapy and learning engages in examining synchrony or dyssemia in clients, offering an opportunity to talk openly about these ideas.

Any of the EAP/EAL activities offer the chance to observe and build synchrony. (Synchrony is also important for co-facilitators in session!) Since we often have a sense of what the client is attempting to accomplish, we can see whether she is acting and interacting with the horse effectively at a non-verbal level. We can usually see this from the very first session, in the Meet and Greet. As the client approaches the horse and the horse responds with a tail swish or an ear flick, does that impact the client’s actions and body language? If a client is struggling with self-management, she might observe this horse’s body language and think she should stop approaching the horse, but still be driven by hidden motivators inside her to keep walking. A client working with synchrony, on the other hand, would observe that body language and it would impact her actions, perhaps causing her to step back, slow the approach or change the angle of approach. (Skill Card 40: Boundaries)

Self-presentation, similar to energy management which was dis- cussed in the previous chapter, is about being able to exhibit competence and confidence in front of other people. Self-presentation allows us to influence the world around us. Inviting clients to be aware of how they present themselves to the horse, and whether that presentation encourages positive interaction and a willing and cooperative response, is one way we begin refining this skill through session work. Again, any of the EAP/EAL activities will offer fertile ground for a discussion of self-presentation. What needs to be teased out during session is surety that self-confidence isn’t the issue (which would be more in the realm of emotional intelligence), but that, instead, the issue is about the exhibition or demonstration of confidence, a social intelligence skill. This highlights something we talk about often in EAP: Do your insides match your outsides? Does the confidence a client feels in a certain situation actually show up in his/her body? (Skill Card 12: Be Assertive)

Concern is the fourth social facility skill, and it’s about caring for others’ needs and acting accordingly. We’ve had clients who, noticing a cut or a nick on the horse, or noticing bug bite welts, ask if they should proceed with session. We’re delighted when this happens, because they are demonstrating concern for the horse and awareness of the impact of the situation on the horse. When this occurs, we might have that session focus on cleaning the wounds of horses, feeding and watering horses, and the like. The key distinguishing question that differentiates this concern as a social intelligence issue and not an emotional intelligence issue is: “Is the concern appropriate to the issue?” If the concern is overwhelming the client, then we’re probably dealing more with emotional intelligence. If the concern is measured and appropriate to the situation, we’re in the realm of social intelligence. (Skill Cards 7: Empathy and 46: Self-Care)

Emotional and social intelligence are the cornerstones of the skills that clients are getting hands-on, in-the-moment practice in through engaging with horses. Indeed, horses make these skills come alive!

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