Post by Tanya Maslach, contributing Women On Business writer
When Oakley, my 13 year old black lab/cocker spaniel mix pooch, was freed forever from the confines of jail on the beautiful island of Key Largo, Florida, she proceeded to live a life her fellow friends in captivity would trade every last dog biscuit for. For the first three years of her life, she had full reign over two separate living arrangements that guaranteed easy access to ocean swimming with manatees (and the occasional iguana), lounge and play time with a buddy (full grown Rottweiler and prankster), and regular sailing trips out of said homesteads with numerous humanoids who felt inclined to share their delicious food with said pooch (who apparently deserved the hand-outs because she was living a life of squalor.)
What I’ve come to understand through the years of cohabitating with this amazing little pooch, is that dogs can teach us, if we pay attention, some excellent lessons in business.
Of course it’s easy to miss these points. For one – dogs don’t talk. And as we know, if you’re already not inclined to listen when someone is trying to tell or teach you something, then you’ve got one strike against you. Second – even if you are a good listener, dogs still don’t talk, at least in a language we understand (Dog Whisperer excluded). So your skills in observation – and anthropomorphizing – become critical. From my practice in this regard, I’ve learned the following:
1. The art of the I-will-rest-my-head-on-the-leg trick:
Humans seem to resort to manipulative, or otherwise, negative behaviors for attention or recognition. Oakley, on the other hand, simply walks up to you and will either quietly rest the edge of her chin on your thigh, or simply stare at you. This is sometimes accompanied by a gentle pawing from her left paw on any close object – but not you directly. She’s careful enough to not knock over or destroy the object, just to make enough soft noise that is bound to get your attention. Either way, she’s pretty direct about it all. If you’re not asking your team members directly what you can do to recognize them, what ways are you noticing they are ‘acting out’ to get the attention they need?
2. Everything old is new again:
No matter how many times we go on a variety of the same routes for her walk, she finds new things to sniff at and the same people to get excited about. In our work, regardless of our positions, it becomes so easy to fall into routines that allow us to essentially turn off our brains and just plug on through our days. Not creating ways to look at the ‘same old same old’ with fresh eyes does a disservice to you, professionally, your teams and your organization’s ability to perform at the highest level. Opportunities exist everywhere. If you don’t easily see them, build teams that are, so they will always be noticing new ideas and making new connections when they see familiar, or old, ways of doing business. Only good things can result.
3. Connected in more ways than one:
The leash, that ridiculous contraption that dogs allow us to use to give us false belief that we’re in control, is not the only thing physically connecting us. Dogs are emotionally connected to us in a very intimate way. Humans are connected in the same way, but we’ve just crafted screwy ways to assure our independence and aloofness. In detecting my moods, Oakley alters her behavior to demonstrate her support; dancing, panting, smiling (yeah, smiling), and wagging her tail at speeds a 5 year old dog would be proud of when she detects happiness, or excitement and never leaving my side when she senses sadness, unhappiness or distress. What’s an absolute gift in all of this is that it’s all unconditional. Okay, so she expects a few kibbles in her bowl every so often, that’s a fair trade right? That’s exactly what a lot of managers think. They get a paycheck, isn’t that enough? If you’ve haven’t heard already, then let me be the first to tell you – “No, it’s not”. Research has shown definitively that people’s emotions are contagious, that we act according to each other’s moods and the attitudes displayed as a result of those. Over time, this can be positive or negative. Connecting with your people is already happening. You just get to decide, will it be a good experience for them, and you? Or not so much….
Onward and upward!