How is this for you?

It seems to me Grace has a pose that says, “I’m ready to talk when you’re ready to listen.”

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?”

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  1. didiwright on July 20, 2011 at 11:31 am

    I’ve been looking forward to your post(s) about that workshop. I hope you’ll write some more posts about this and maybe share some of the advice you were given.
    I don’t think it’s crazy to “ask the dog”. As you say, they’ve got other (better) means of communicating apart from words, and we just have to be prepared to look for them and train ourselves to understand them.
    “How is this for you?” Oh, gosh, I can’t even remember when it was the last time someone providing me services or any kind asked me that…

  2. PeopleSense Consulting LLC on July 20, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    Hi Didi. I definitely plan to write more — it was an amazing experience. I agree that it is a gift to understand different languages. And yes, very rare indeed when a company truly reached out to find out what’s working and what’s not working with their products or service. Or did something about it!

  3. Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide on July 20, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    This sounds really useful as someone who has a scaredy cat dog. I think Grace will do great.

  4. […] Every behavior is rooted in an emotional drive important to the one feeling the emotion. What are those emotions? I invite you to click into the blog wherein the above quote came from. This article is a great read about what motivates an animal. Click here. […]

  5. lifewith4cats on August 5, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    Hi Robin, I just wrote a post about your post and linked to it but Im not sure if it shows up as a backlink, so I thought Ide let you know here. I loved the way you put this article into words.

  6. Novroz on August 7, 2011 at 12:09 am

    I like your post, so much truth in it.

    How is this for you is certainly a rare words among human…it becomes more rare (or is it rarer?) between human and animal. I just realized I have never asked such question to my baby turtles eventhough they are clearly showing emotion. I would change that for now on…I think I can learn to read their expression more by doing this.

    Thank you for sharing this.

    • PeopleSense Consulting LLC on August 7, 2011 at 2:25 pm

      How cool of you to ask your baby turtles! Thank you for continuing to spread this in your own life. Let me know how reading their expressions goes. I’d like to be able to listen to Grace’s language more accurately. Thanks for stopping by, too.

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