HYCS # 22 – Who’s the Calmest Person in the Room?

HYCS # 22 – Who’s the Calmest Person in the Room?

You are.  Nothing builds confidence and shouts “credibility” like calmness.

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Word Count: 867

Reading Time: Just under 4 minutes

Assignment Time:  A lifetime, 5 minutes at a time

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“I’ve never jumped with a horse.”  I’m with a colleague at the Stanford Red Barn.  We’re there playing with creating powerful leadership programs with the horses.

“I’ve done it. Incredibly dangerous when the horse refuses.”

And that’s the thing about jumping with a horse:  Either you are both all-in, or someone is going to get hurt.  It’s a question of alignment. If you are paying attention – and you’d better be – you can see and feel each tiny adjustment your horse makes as she approaches the jump.  You can see and feel it when she’s going to refuse too.

Inviting alignment is how you calm everyone down.  Alignment reduces the risk of getting thrown, whether you’re jumping a horse or meeting with a client.

There is one critical thing to know about horses and jumping:  Horses have no interest in jumping over an obstacle unless it’s barring access to something they want.  Just like you.  Just like your client.  Jumping over an obstacle takes so much energy.  It’s also scary.  Unlike humans, horses don’t lie about this.

That’s why horses are such powerful alignment coaches.  Horses let you know immediately what’s going on with them, and with you.  It’s up to you to make the translation.  This is no different with humans, although we can be much trickier about it.

Yesterday, when I was being snuffled by a warm, soft muzzle having a very professional interaction with a talented leadership horse, the horse started yawning.  These were huge yawns, and he was bumping my arm with his neck.   Yet moments before he’d been quite alert.  Odd.

I ignored this.  When a second horse started yawning theatrically, and bumping into me, I was ready to start yawning myself.  Those horses were right:  I was holding a surprising amount of tension in my jaw.  As I yawned, my whole body relaxed and I calmed down.  It was quick and easy to let go of, once I listened to the feedback. Horses make getting aligned look so simple.

That’s because alignment is simple.

We complicate it with our stories, stories of impending disaster, stories of how I need to take care of you or you need to take care of me.


As a consultant, it’s your job to be the calmest person in the room.  Inviting alignment  creates calm.

And alignment precedes commitment.  When you’re jumping a horse, you can feel you and your horse align as you take a structured, methodical approach the jump.  You are not rushing anything.  You are paying close attention. Your life depends on alignment at each step.

Alignment is why you listen so carefully to the exact words your clients and consulting partners use.  It’s why you pay close attention to your own feelings and find non-judgmental ways to speak powerful truths. It’s why you do not attach to the stories your mind spins about what you see and what you hear.

Alignment is why you structure meetings with outcome statements and meeting processes like round robin.  Alignment is why you take risks and drop the needle.  Your quality of life depends on it.


This week, become a force for alignment in meetings you attend or lead.


  • It’s easier and safer to talk about alignment than about the issue at hand or about yourself or your client.  “I don’t think we’re in alignment yet,” is a powerful intervention that’s much less risky than “I disagree with your approach,” or “Have you considered using pony rides for health?”
  • Commenting on the state of the alignment among people groups of people helps create that alignment.
  • If your intention is alignment, that’s what will come of using the skills below.  This will calm everyone down.
  • You’ve got to temporarily set aside all other motives (like being right, ending this meeting on time, or impressing your client or mollifying your consulting partner) to create alignment.  You can pick them back up later.


  1. Make yourself a post-it that says “alignment” and put it on your smartphone or notebook or whatever it is you take into meetings.
  1. Listen for vague words like “it,” “they,” always,” “some,” and ask for more precision.  Without precise speech, there can be no alignment.  Without alignment, there is no real commitment.  Fauxcensus is commitment’s toxic mimic.
  1. Summarize.  Nothing helps others listen to themselves like a good summary.  Summarizing is paraphrasing group rather than individual speech. You have to be listening hard to pull it off.


I make it a habit to summarize whenever the group has raised 3 of anything – possible approaches toward a goal, reasons why something won’t work, whatever.  Groups can’t consider more than 3 things at a time.  When 3 things are in play, it’s time to either make a decision or start listing ideas on a flipchart.

I also summarize when there is only one approach being considered, so the group can either move to action on that approach, or consider more options.