My friend’s dog hates me. This really bothers me because I have never met a dog that didn’t like me or vice-versa. In fact, my husband calls me a dog whisperer because dogs seem to naturally gravitate toward me. Just last week, a woman was walking her dog on the beach. I was walking the other way when her dog abruptly turned around and started following me.
Another friend’s dog is so excited when I come by that he presses himself against me and moves with me like glue stuck to cardboard until I leave.
There is a dog I know who has NEVER left her owner’s bedroom overnight, yet she slept on the floor beside me in the guest bedroom when I stayed over.
You get the picture.
So, now you understand why I don’t understand why my friend’s dog doesn’t like me.
Her name is Rosie. She’s a Jack Russell Terrier. She appears to have a personality disorder. Several times a year, I stay with my friend who lives in another state. When I arrive at her home, Rosie carries on like a maniac until her owner calms her down. Once I’ve been inside for a few minutes, she does a complete 180 and can’t seem to get enough of me, in a good way. She sits on my lap. She kisses my face. If I get up, she follows me around. I begin to feel like a dog whisper again.
Then it happens. Another 180. Most recently, I walked into the kitchen to assist my friend with dinner and bam! She snarled, bolted after me, jumped on me and bit my thigh. No blood, but I was a little freaked out. The owners apologized profusely, saying they can’t understand what happened and they put her in her cage. Time out for Rosie.
Once out after a long scolding, she cowered back to me and tried to make friends, but still nursing my thigh, I refused to make eye contact until the next morning. Thinking Rosie, the Impaler was still in her cage, while everyone was sleeping, I made my way downstairs for coffee. There she was. Loose. 14 pounds of anger staring me down. I walked toward the coffee maker. She followed behind. I took my coffee into the family room and sat down. She sat on the floor in front of me, snarling ever so slightly under her breath. I tried to talk nicely to her and she started barking. Fortunately, she woke her owners up and they took her away.
I started thinking about it and wondered, why do I care if this dog likes me? Admittedly, it’s probably because I’m afraid she’ll bite me again. However, there is a great analogy to be made when it comes to the workplace.
At work, most of us want to be liked. We want the boss to notice our effort and good work. We want colleagues to want to work with us. Acceptance. Respect. Appreciated. Most of us want that. Yet the reality is, we can’t and won’t be liked by everyone. If we spend all our time trying to get everyone to like us, we risk worrying more about what other people think instead of being true to ourselves.
Leaders don’t have to be liked by everyone to be great leaders. Think back to some of your bosses. You probably liked some of them. They were personable and fun to be around, but they weren’t necessarily strong leaders. Others may have been difficult or abrasive; not the kind of people you wanted to socialize with after work. Yet, they may have been strong effective leaders who you trusted and respected. That’s the key.
All day long we use products that we trust. For example, you may own an Apple computer. You don’t like, or dislike CEO Tim Cook because you don’t know him. Yet, you would never buy anything else. You trust Apple. You respect the company’s ability to make a solid product that works for you.
Johnson’s baby shampoo is another example. There are many baby shampoos available to you, but if your mother used Johnson’s and your grandmother used Johnson’s, you might prefer Johnson’s. You have never met CEO Alex Gorsky and don’t have an opinion of him, but you trust J&J products and respect the company’s longevity and reputation.
Amazon is also a good example. You may know nothing about CEO Jeff Bezos, but many have great respect for Amazon’s business model and ability to make on-line shopping easy.
It’s not just products. Think about the doctors or lawyers you’ve encountered. Some lack personality, but they are known for their precision in surgery or excellence in the courtroom. You might not like them, but you trust them to produce the best outcomes for you.
Trust and respect in business is a good thing. If people trust and respect your product, they will buy from you and recommend you to others. Your business and reputation will likely thrive.
That was the problem with Rosie and me. I wanted her to like me, but I didn’t trust her. Like a back-stabbing workplace colleague, her unreliable behavior created tension. I was wary and on guard.
To be seen as a leader and build trust at work, consider these seven simple steps:
- Be open. When people speak to you, listen. Accept their ideas and suggestions even if you don’t implement them.
- Tell the truth. Honesty is still the best policy. Constructive feedback is more productive than critical feedback.
- Stay issue oriented. I once had a boss who made everything personal. Focus on issues and solutions instead of personalities.
- Be aware of body language. Look people in the eye when they are speaking to you and you are speaking to them. Avoid fidgeting, closed gestures such as arms crossed, hands behind the back or in pockets. Avoid checking your texts and emails when someone is trying to have a conversation with you.
- Ask probing questions. Asking questions suggests that you know you don’t have all the answers and are interested in ideas and opinions of others.
- Strive for consistency. That means don’t tell one-person layoffs are due to budget constraints and then tell someone else it was because of poor performance.
- Gossip is not for grown-ups. If you want to be trusted, then zip it. Keep what others tell you to yourself.
Like dogs, who quickly decide who they like and who they don’t, people can often sense if someone isn’t trustworthy. It may be the words they use, non-verbal signals they send or even their appearance that determines our reaction even when we don’t really know them.
Maybe that’s where Rosie and I broke down. We don’t really know each other. Perhaps when I went to the kitchen to help my friend, she perceived I might cause harm. Or, when sitting on the couch, maybe I moved too quickly threatening her space.
Maybe that’s what happened. Maybe I should take the high road and give Rosie the benefit of the doubt. Maybe, but I don’t think so. I may never figure out why that dog doesn’t like me, but the next time I visit my friend, I’m going to respect Rosie’s space and hope she’ll respect mine.
Like a worker who spends too much time trying to please, I’m expending too much energy wondering why Rosie and I don’t connect, when there are still plenty of dogs who like me for me.
To them, I’m still a dog whisperer.