December 2017 Motivate

It’s Time to Treat People like Dogs


Written By: Jennifer Webb, Business Communication Specialist and Speaker

Kindness cannot be overrated, yet it seems to be something we often reserve for animals and close friends, not for those everyday folks who annoy us.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes even the nicest people seem to lose it? A car doesn’t merge correctly or something somewhat insignificant seems to trigger a blast of horn or a blistering email. Most of us seem to be falling into more of these frustrating moments lately, as we juggle unimaginatively challenging schedules or still try to multi-task, even though we’ve been told it isn’t (and has been proven) nearly as effective as we were once led to believe. And the really bad news is if we’re angry or upset with someone it’s causing us mental and physical grief.

For starters our adrenal glands release a blast of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol, so our heart rate speeds up, as does our blood pressure, and cortisone– the primary stress hormone–kicks in impacting all parts of our body including our immune system, our mood and our motivation. Obviously being subjected to stress is not a good thing, yet we react to others who turn around and react to us, creating a merry mix of negative responses and boosting our already high stress levels.

So how do we shift our perception in order to respond to people with more tolerance and understanding, as well as genuinely change our paradigm on how we treat others? There’s an answer that is much healthier than Xanax or other mood-altering substances and is easily accessible, a solution that makes it easier for us to authentically be kinder to others; simply start treating people like dogs!

Think about it, animals bring out the best in us, in fact I’m often amazed at how kind, tolerant and generous people seem to be around the most cantankerous or meanest of animals. Typically, I hear comments like “There is no such thing as a bad dog, only a bad owner.” On the other hand, have you ever heard anyone say “There’s no such thing as a bad employee, only a bad manager.” People tend to cut bad dogs lots of slack, reasoning the dog’s behavior is really not its fault.

However, the same well-educated individuals with empathy and emotional intelligence to spare will turn around and bristle at any unkind word or become annoyed if they perceive any slight injustice from a fellow human. To be honest, most of us tend to place blame on others, perceiving their bad behavior as their responsibility to fix, and then we stay frustrated a large part of the day due to the indignity that we have to bear. And it’s upsetting us in ways we’re not even aware of. The more we focus on how annoying others can be the more we tend to feel tired, frustrated and blah.

Once we learn to change our habitual thinking of blame and annoyance to patience and understanding, our health, happiness and over-all enjoyment can soar. Empathy, understanding and compassion are in short demand these days, but seeing our colleagues and friends as dogs can have some really interesting effects. For example:

When a Dog Bites

If a dog bites or snaps most of us assume it has had some dreadful past, or at the very least it’s frightened and reacting the only way it knows how.  We rethink, or reframe what it did to create a more acceptable account of its behavior. So why not, when humans snap at us, don’t we try reframing their language, cutting them a little slack; after all we haven’t a clue what their days have been like or what they may be worried about. Reframing could sound like “So you’re saying you’re very unhappy with what I did on the Smith account. Help me understand what you mean because I felt it answered all the requirements.” We’re not accusing or defending, only restating to get clarity and open up the dialogue for a more useful conversation. It’s not trying to be nicer, it is seeing this person from a different perspective.

Let me give you an example of changing perspective instead of trying to be better, because until we change how we genuinely feel, trying only comes across as stilted or disingenuous, and won’t help us improve our emotional and cognitive selves one little bit. On a flight awhile back there was an elderly woman sitting in my window seat. Nicely I told her she was in my seat and she needed to move (at least I thought I was being nice). She seemed disoriented but she moved to her middle seat. Then I noticed a yellow plastic bag under the seat where my feet should go. Again, I was working on not being rude but quite frankly I was getting more annoyed by the minute. I explained she had to move her bag because it was blocking my foot space and I wasn’t a complete ogre, I offered to put her bag in the overhead compartment for her (congratulating myself on being so considerate). She firmly said no, she would prefer to hold the bag, it was the flag off her husband’s coffin; she had just come from his funeral. Now instead of working hard on trying to be nice, I spent the rest of the flight helping her as best I could, I had a complete shift in perception.

Another way to look at this is to imagine seeing the part that shines in every individual. An old lab mix snaps when you reach down to pet him, and most of us say labs are great dogs, it must have snapped because it was in pain or perhaps didn’t see us very well, that has to explain the incident. Because of our belief in the great qualities of Labrador Retrievers, we intrinsically see the good—the part that shines. If we automatically saw the part that shone in all the people we encountered each day, think what that could do, how it would alter our conversations and more importantly how we felt and acted. Andrew Carnegie helped more men become millionaires during his era, and when asked how he did it he said it was a lot like digging for gold, you had to dig past the dirt to the part that shown.

When a Dog Won’t Let Go

If a dog grabs your favorite belt or shoe, sees it as a chew toy and won’t let go, it’s a game to him. We usually laugh and distract the dog long enough to get back our item. If our team member or manager just won’t let go of an issue and is hard headed and belligerent, we don’t give an inch. Our reputation is at stake or at the very least we know the other person is completely wrong (as is the dog) and we stand firm; no one gets away with faulty thinking when they are so obviously mistaken.

Why not step back, get our egos out of the way and realize that most issues are no longer “either or” but “either, or, and.” Let’s use the “and” in order to realize there is always a third alternative and a smarter approach. This is not to say we give in on tough issues or let problems slide; however, coming from a perspective of understanding helps us be more effective in offering feedback, correcting mistakes and finding smarter collaborative solutions.

Kindness cannot be overrated, yet it seems to be something we often reserve for animals and close friends, not for those everyday folks who annoy us. Wouldn’t it be great if we could decide to treat everyone we meet today with the same kindness and tolerance that most of us give generously to animals in our lives? What a difference it could make!

When a Dog Chews

If a dog chews up items or does damages, it’s often from frustration, uncertainty or confusion. We want to stop the behavior but at the same time we realize there’s usually something else going on. Is there anxiety in being alone, is there boredom, fear or something we’ve yet to diagnose? We take the time to get to the root of the problem and find a suitable solution.

You guessed it, when our fellow humans mess up we immediately place blame; he was irresponsible or didn’t think the project through or was just plain rude. Sometimes we even say we’ve been predicting that would happen for a long time; we’re not surprised. Our biases run the gamut, depending on the age, culture and our relationship to the person, but we can almost always find rationale with why this person has clearly acted irresponsibly or unprofessionally.

Remember there are always multiple stories, and one person’s version or belief is different from the next. Let’s look at the other person’s story before we rush to judgment; it saves many hours of frustration and helps us reach resolution much sooner.  We were all raised so differently that what seems so easy and logical to us might be an enormous challenge to someone else. Our willingness to go “5 Why’s Deep” to get to the real answer can provide invaluable opportunities to help others while solving the right problem.

When a Dog Repeats Bad Behavior

Finally, when a dog repeats the same bad behavior we laugh and talk about how long it took to teach the puppy not to pee on the laptop case or stop digging up the front yard. We are patient, understanding and absolutely know that with the right guidance we’ll see a mature, wonderful dog. Yet if a person screws up more than once, or even once, we discuss his lineage and IQ and wonder how he got the job in the first place since he’s so clueless.

Again, wouldn’t it be great if we could offer the same compassion to our fellow humans? If we no longer labeled the ones who don’t behave as we do or live up to our standards as losers? If I really can’t figure out how to correct a dog’s bad behavior I still don’t blame the dog, I rely on google to help me find a solution or call the local humane society to hire a behaviorist…it’s still not the dog’s problem, I just haven’t figured out how to communicate in dog language yet. Taking that same attitude and applying it to humans, we could seek help if we don’t seem to have the right formula for teaching, training or working effectively with someone. This mindset of seeking positive solutions and being in control of how we choose to think is priceless. It led Viktor Frankl, the Jewish physician and neurologist who survived a concentration camp, to realize he had complete freedom in how he chose to think.  “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

My dogs have always been smart enough to train me almost instantly, and I think that takes a pretty high IQ. They’ve taught me to give them treats when they bark, dabs of wine when I get pawed while drinking a nice Pinot Grigio, to eat quickly so they won’t be frustrated, and of course to take a small part of the bed or couch so they have enough room to relax after their long days of keeping me in line. I smile, scoot over, share and usually give in to their whims and needs. And I’m working hard on realizing if I can only treat people I encounter during the day half as nice as I treat my dogs, I’ll be a much better person, much less stressed and much more effective in my interactions with everyone I meet.

JENNIFER WEBB is a business communications specialist, performance coach, author of four books on human potential and motivational speaker with a background and graduate degree in psychology. She uses sleight of hand, NLP, psychology and other tools to help people overcome setbacks, achieve goals and dreams and live with joy and compassion. Her core message: Our attitudes and expectations create our realities and impact everyone around us, and we have the power to change how we think if it isn’t getting us what we want. She is proudest of her non-profit, Shakespeare Animal Fund, that has raised more than $500,000 to help pay emergency veterinary bills for elderly, disabled, returning veterans and low-income individuals whose pets are suffering and dying and they can’t afford the life-saving medical treatment.

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