I’m still reviewing and processing all the information I learned at Suzanne Clothier’s recent workshop on fearful dogs. The lessons most certainly apply to all dogs – and people.
She suggests that there are elemental questions that we should ask a dog when interacting with her. The first of those questions is: “Who are you?” It seems like an easy-enough question to pose. But like most “simple” things in life, they aren’t always easy and can require quite an effort to reach the quality of outcomes that are possible.
If indeed we do think about asking this question, it’s typically on the first time we meet someone. We try to assess someone’s appearance, demeanor, words, and actions. And we do this quickly. In fact, the Society for Human Resource Management Association produced a study that reported that hiring managers will make their decision about a candidate within the first 4.3 minutes that they meet. After our impressions are formed, we then start to justify how we feel rather than being open to new data points.
We had family visiting this past weekend and there was no better example of how we slide back (or stay) with old habits. I know I found myself getting impatient with patterns that I’ve experienced with my family versus being open to learning more about them. They brought their dog, Happy, and he and Grace were often sniffing and exploring things together and I think they were much better about living in the moment and staying with the present situation rather than relying on what they had experienced in previous visits with each other.
Suzanne’s point about this question is that in order to have a stronger, more meaningful relationship with your dog (which translates to higher compliance in training efforts, for example), you need to know how they sort out their world. Are they focused on auditory sensory stimuli? Or visual? Do they like people? Or just tolerate them? Do they enjoy physical activities? Or prefer mental games with puzzles and toys? If you were able to satisfy and/or work within their frame of reference, do you think you’d have a happier and well-adjusted dog? You bet.
When managers can build upon an employee’s strengths and natural work styles, everyone will benefit. When we don’t take the time to understand a person, we miss out on so much that they can offer. Suzanne was quick to remind us that we need to continue to ask the question, even when we think we know it all. Things change and the best relationships are built upon a solid comprehension of the situation – which can change under different circumstances. Have you ever had an employee who was exceptional in their job, and then was promoted, only to have devastating results? Career growth is important and should always be part of our plan, but we have to do it thoughtfully, with a strong understanding of who that person is at the core of those decisions.
Grace can stretch and learn new things, but she and I both have to work together to manage the best ways for her to develop. And I admit that asking the question [‘who are you?’] about Grace does not automatically come to the forefront of my mind. But when I do remember it, it helps me to stop doing things to her, versus involving her in the plan of action.