I love pets. Dogs, cats, hamsters, fish—you name it. So many people love their pets and it got me thinking about why. Two days ago, I saw three kids in a store looking at toys—dog toys. They had the most serious and thoughtful looks on their faces like they were making an extremely important decision. They were each making the case for their choice and debating like the happiness of a royal was on the line. Usually you only see this kind of thing at a jewelry store or car dealership, but it was happening at a big box store in the pet aisle and it was certainly about a royal’s happiness—the family pooch. I know that dog is royalty just from looking at these kids and I’m sure that silly, slobbery, furball feels like a princess every day. We humans usually respond to inspiring words, but our pets don’t speak human languages. Hmmm. If we could only bring out the best in our loved ones and coworkers like our pets do, the word would thrive! How? I have some ideas.
Pets don’t have shame showing affection and appreciation in big and small ways—all. the. time. Humans struggle with this. We’re great at being stoic or showing our anger and these behaviors don’t usually inspire lasting, positive action or bring people together. They may temporarily generate action out of fear or obligation but that’s short-lived. What if we showed kindness and gratefulness in every interaction? Sure it may sound weird at first but how much better would we feel about our day and ourselves; not to mention how the other people would feel. Those kids were trying to find the perfect toy for their dog who shows them love and makes them feel amazing. People choose to stay in our lives—or not. That choice is often about how we feel when we’re with another person. If you want successful relationships, be them with friends, family, or coworkers, make those people feel amazing by showing them sincere kindness and appreciation. You’ll feel vulnerable at first but take the risk because it will payoff more times than not. Expressing gratitude and affection can be seen as weak but look at a pet who is worshiped versus one who is neglected and tell me which one is weaker. Build people up like your pet builds you up.
Programs like Tail Waggin’ Tutors are popping up all over because it’s easier to read aloud to a non-judgmental pooch. Pets simply listen and gently support us in just the right ways. They don’t try to solve the problem, give advice, or provide feedback. There are certainly places where we want those things but too often, we quickly jump into fix-it mode which is a judgement—something is wrong and needs to be corrected. Before you become Ms./Mr. Fix-It, pause and ask yourself, “What’s the best outcome?” or “How can I best support this person?” These questions make the situation less about us and more about the other person. A listening ear, a word of encouragement, or a simple acknowledgement is what we really need so here are a couple of good ones:
- “I’m sorry you’re going through this.”
- “I wish I had an answer but I’m happy to listen.”
My dog, Violet, will rest her head on my knee, give me a thoughtful gaze, and gently wag her tail as if to say I’m right here with you and we’ll get through this. Ahhh…that’s the stuff.
Be present and actively listen. Effective communication involves less talking, less planning and more listening, more feeling. Pets don’t have human words, so they really listen and feel our emotions which guide their responses. What if we did that? Yes, it’s gonna feel awkward sometimes but if we can give our minds a break from forming words and plans we would actually pickup a lot more information and have a more thoughtful response (see above). The pressure to have a fast answer is real—like a bad habit that we all have, especially at work. How often are those even good? Disrupt this unproductive pattern by listening to a point where you can repeat the essence of what another person says to their satisfaction. After someone is done speaking, quickly recap and then ask if you have the correct understanding. Allow them the opportunity to make corrections and pay attention to how their demeanor changes. Since we don’t have puppy-dog eyes, sweet purrs, or happy tails, this is a great option to show another person you care enough to truly listen.
Humans love making simple things complex; like a competitive sport. I believe this is why pets came into our communities a gazillion years ago. They remind us that simple is ok—even good. I love words but they can clutter our minds or be used to make people feel less-than. I love animals more than words and it doesn’t matter if they are AKC registered or from the pound, animals show us that love, acceptance, and listening make for powerful communication.