• Ian Sandbrook

The Emotional Culture Deck has made me better at what I do

This is my last blog in my training to become a ‘Pro Elephant Rider’ for the awesome Emotional Culture Deck developed by Jeremy Dean of Elephants&Riders. However, I can assure you that such has been the impact this tool has had on my personal and professional life, that it won’t be my last as I simply won’t be able to stop sharing the wonderful experiences it provides me.

While reflecting on this journey, and the experiences I’ve had since I started using the Emotional Culture Deck, I kept coming back to the simple conclusion that it has made me better at what I do. I hope that doesn’t sound too cliché because it’s genuinely how I feel.

I’m an introvert at heart, but I’ve always been an empathetic, people-orientated person as well. Perhaps this goes against many people’s stereotypical view of a ‘people-person’, but I like that. And perhaps, that is also why I enjoy the Emotional Culture Deck so much. The ability for this tool to avoid group-think, to allow the voice of the introvert, the extrovert, and everyone in-between, to be heard, respected and understood; has been a powerful experience for me.

The Emotional Culture Deck has enhanced what has always been at the core of my approach to sports development – a more human-centred, empathetic approach to growing and sustaining community sport. It has given me a powerful tool to engage people in thinking this way and create the conversations to challenge them and make meaningful change in the sector. I simply would not have been as effective in my mission without the use of this tool.

The Emotional Culture Deck has also helped bring the best out of me as a person and facilitator. The ability to create warmth and safety for people to speak honestly about their emotions, the sharpening of my emotional intelligence, the development of my confidence to probe and seek deeper understanding and meaning for people, has all been down to my immersion in the tool and the context of what I’m trying to achieve.

Having now run dozens of sessions using the emotional culture deck, I thought it pertinent in my last training blog to share my number one insight for those starting out their journey with the ECD – it is to simply relax and be guided by the conversations that unfold.

It’s human nature that when you’re adopting something new for the first time that we tend to be ‘by the book’ and want to follow the script for how it should be used. We stick to the plan, avoid the side roads, because we haven’t navigated them before and don’t want to ‘fail’ to get to our end destination.

However, what I’ve learnt is that if you’re too structured and focused only on getting to the end point as quickly as possible, then you will miss out on the best bits.

I say, embrace the side roads!

Don’t be afraid to explore the interesting conversations – choose the back road, the gravel road, the winding country lane, the B road – it may take a little longer, but the drive is more interesting, challenging, and ultimately more satisfying. For some reason this has turned into a driving analogy!

However, I hope you’re getting my point that the learning and the benefit to the group you’re working with, is in the journey. I know that sounds a bit cliché, but it really is. If you are just using the deck to identify a top 5 list of emotions as quickly as possible and move on, then I think you are missing the point.

When I first started using the ECD I think I was a little guilty of just sticking to the most direct route from A to B. It is understandable and I recognise now that is was part of my journey in becoming a more skilled facilitator. I can also assure you that the simplicity of the ‘little deck of empathy’ will always mean that you can hardly go wrong! I may have started out conservatively, but the conversations even then were rich and rewarding, I have just become more skilled at keeping the conversations going to unlock greater connection amongst the group.

The very best sessions I’ve run have occurred when I’ve been far more flexible and natural in the way I’ve incorporated the deck, and this only comes from using it.

I’ve become more confident to explore conversations and go down those little alleys that deliver great insights, and I truly believe the participants have benefitted from this with more meaningful and powerful discussions.

In preparation for the sessions I run now, I don’t have to worry about the session plan. I focus on making sure I’m in the right head space to listen intently, pick up on body language and vulnerability, and be cognisant of where the group is at and the direction they're heading.

I aim to create safety for people to open-up and seek to ask the right questions, so we create something truly meaningful for the group.

If you want to find out more about my services and how this could help your club, team or sport as a whole, please don't hesitate to get in touch -

Do you want to learn more about The Emotional Culture Deck? There are a few ways you can you learn more about the deck:

·        Visit

·        Download a free Lo-fi PDF version of the deck at the website, click here

·        Download the #emotionalcultureworkshop for free here (yes for free but I can also facilitate this workshop for you and your teams if you wanted some help).

·        Depending on where you live, you can attend an Emotional Culture Masterclass (like I did), click here for more info

If you still have questions, feel free to contact me!

#theemotionalculturedeck #proelephantrider #designedbyridersandelephants

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