If you’ve been here recently, you know that Grace and I attended a workshop this past weekend designed to help dogs who are fearful. The presenter was Suzanne Clothier and it was hosted at our local humane shelter. This seminar left me with so much information that I’m still processing it all. It was sixteen hours filled with an amazing array of learning experiences.
When you’re in the presence of someone who is extraordinarily competent and compassionate, it becomes unmistakable in a short amount of time. Suzanne is that person. It’s impossible to fake the level of knowledge and experience that she brings to her work. Then add on top of that, an unyielding commitment that a dog’s safety and well-being comes before everything else. There were times (several times actually) that she stopped an exercise when it was too much for the dog. She would not push ahead just for the sake of illustration. Her vow to the dog to maintain a sense of safety and security was sacred.
I could never do justice to Suzanne’s information and presentation style, nor am I in any way qualified to offer suggestions based on what I learned regarding how to train a dog. This isn’t about offering dog training suggestions. It’s about sharing my revelations.
It’s tempting to focus on the specific tips that a person can do to help fearful dogs. But I knew as I walked out each night, it was bigger than that. It was about the greater relationship you build with the dog. During the workshop, attendees would pose a situation or question to Suzanne such as, “I’m not sure if I should do this,” or “Would it have been ok to do that?” Suzanne’s response was startling to me. Sometimes her answer was, “I don’t know. Ask the dog.”
Some of you might be thinking that’s a cop-out. Or she’s a nutcase who doesn’t have a clue. You’d be wrong. While I certainly was left feeling that I don’t know how to read the answers to a question I’d pose to Grace, I definitely gained an appreciation that Grace would have an opinion that I’d not thought to ask of her before. Just like an infant who isn’t able to form words, it doesn’t mean they don’t think or feel.
The answers come from their body language, actions, movements, and for Suzanne, there is also a mental communication that she can translate between them without words. I believe it. I just don’t know how to get there.
There’s another important component. She respects their answer.
How many times in an organization do we forget to involve the affected parties when making decisions? Can you think of a time when your manager took action on something that affected you and didn’t involve you? You bet. It’s not to say that an employee can always get what they want, but that they matter when options are considered.
If health care organizations always thought about the patient experience when developing processes, our systems would be dramatically different. What if a doctor asked a patient, “How is this for you?” If the patient questions a course of action, does the practitioner work to adjust the situation that will fit the patient’s needs? Making those adjustments shows respect for the patient’s voice.
Have you ever been caught in bureaucratic red-tape when trying to reach the right department at a call center? They would change their phone tree system if they asked the customer, “How is this for you?”
What if our educators asked students, “How is this for you?”
To be completely honest, I hadn’t thought about asking Grace how certain things are for her. Despite the fact that I would move a mountain if I could to make her world a better place, this weekend I learned that I could simply ask her when I’m not sure. And knowing that Suzanne can accomplish this with dogs, I am quite sure we can do better in our organizations by asking one question: “How is this for you?”