My life’s work is centered around communication. Doing more of it, more effectively and illustrating how communication is more than a “soft skill”, but one that leads to real, meaningful business results. But at no other time in my life have I learned more about the practical application of communication than I have in the last year.

I’ve been living in a multi-generational household with family members ranging in age from 13 – 83. I’ve been dining weekly with couples with children, couples without and empty-nesters with a temporarily full nest.

We’ve lived through illness, recovery, and the tensions and gifts that come from completing a major home remodel when residential remodeling is the family business.

Last week we embarked on our 14th annual extended family vacation to a Guest Ranch in Northern California for a week of horseback riding, rest & relaxation.

It became clear from the moment we hit the road, that communication was going to remain a prominent theme in my learning and life odyssey. The four pillars from the About my Brain Institute's i4 Neuroleader Model rang particularly true.

1st stop: Courage

In most families, there’s some element of stifling what needs to be said for the sake of cohesion and peace. But, when is it too much? Within the first hour of the road trip, my husband, children and I began a lively conversation of current events.

At some point, my daughter said “gee Mom, you’re sounding salty today!” I replied “I’ve spent the first half of my life quieting my voice for the sake of harmony, and all it got me was the increased volume of the voice inside my head!” She called that “salty” – I call that being "authentic."

Now having said that, there are some key companions to having the courage to be salty and authentic. Respect and safety are non-negotiable, but it begs the question –how courageous are you being when it comes to cultivating communication in your organization?

Next stop: Generosity

When you’re traveling in a total of three cars, it’s critical to agree on the preferred mode of communication before beginning the journey. Someone will need to use the bathroom and someone else will need a snack and rather than relying on hand gestures and “smoke signals”, we saved ourselves a lot of confusion by agreeing on how we would communicate between cars before we departed.

Not long into the journey, we received a call from the car behind us, requesting more reliable use of our turn signals – a critical instrument in good driver communication. Being generous with these strategies dramatically improved our ability to stay connected and signal our intentions.

What tools do you have at your fingertips that could improve the quality of your team communication with more generous and consistent use?

3rd stop: Adaptability

The trick to remaining adaptable is staying flexible in the face of friction. Never was this clearer than when I found myself on the back of a horse. My horse had a reputation for taking a leisurely pace and taking every opportunity to graze on the nearby brush. Perhaps you have team members prone to similar distractions?

The wranglers taught me how to use my reins and my legs to communicate with my horse, and I found myself incorporating favorite techniques as well – verbal cues and encouraging behaviors.

Some techniques worked better for the horse and some worked better for me, but as the week progressed, we both managed to adapt and find common ground. My horse also like to trot when it suited him and I wasn’t quite ready for that.

At first, I resisted and endured a very bumpy ride. But the more I leaned in to the rhythm and began anticipating what he would do next, the smoother and more fun the rides became.

Final stop: Curiosity

When you are on vacation with eight very different people, asking questions and listening skills need to rule the day! I can’t think of an occasion where one needs to be the smartest person in the room and especially not on vacation with family.

Being curious, assuming positive intent and seeking to understand are all skills that served me well on this trip and maintained and enhanced very important relationships in my life. Which relationships on your team or in your organization could benefit from a renewed sense of curiosity?


I’m back from vacation and facilitating a three-day workshop on creating productive relationships this week. I’m reminded of the importance of story and personal experience in the learning environment.

Instead of a room with one instructor and 17 students, I share the floor with my fellow learners and teachers, mentors and coaches. Imagine how you can wear each of these hats with your team today...

Originally posted on: 4 July 2016
Last updated on: 12 April 2024

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Brooke Schiller

Brooke Schiller

Brooke Schiller brings over 25 years of real world, practical experience in organizational development and performance consulting to her roles as Principal at Incite Partners and Senior Consultant with About My Brain Institute. She works for and consults with companies ranging in size from small non-profits to large global brands, including: Microsoft, Google, HP, Cisco Systems, Genentech, Silicon Valley Bank, Gap, Inc., and Levi Strauss. Brooke is an experienced organizational development consultant, coach, facilitator, anthropologist and storyteller committed to fostering brain friendly cultures where personal insights ignite professional breakthroughs.

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