Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 3, Issue 45;   November 5, 2003: Why Dogs Wag Their Tails

Why Dogs Wag Their Tails

by

If you've ever known a particular dog at all well, you've probably been amazed at how easy it is to guess a dog's mood, even though dogs can't speak. Perhaps what's more amazing is that it's so difficult to guess a person's mood, even though humans can speak.

The meeting ended mercifully, before any of them could charge their weapons. After the team from Diamond Square filed out of the room, Glen and Barb silently stared across the table at each other for maybe a month. Then Glen said, "I guess I blew it, huh?"

A happy dogIt wasn't a question, but Barb felt relieved to receive a license to be honest. "In some ways, yes. But their keeping us all in the dark for so long didn't help."

Glen was intrigued. "Say more."

Barb explained, "Your were clearly out of bounds. Clearly. But if we knew how sensitive they were about being excluded last time, you might've done things differently. Their silence helped create this mess."

Barb has noticed that in tense situations, we can be reluctant to let others know how we really feel. On the surface, we might appear to be fine — even happy — while inside, we feel low, or hurt, or even steamed.

While we steer
by our own insides,
people around us
steer by our outsides
While we steer by our own insides, people around us steer by our outsides. When we conceal how we feel, or when we pretend to feel what we don't, we deprive others of information they could use to adjust their behavior. When our insides and our outsides are different enough, danger is always near.

We can learn a lot about communicating feelings by paying attention to our dogs.

Let the people around you know how you're doing
Dogs wag their tails to make sure everyone around them knows how they feel, even when nothing much is happening.
When you conceal your feelings, the people around you must make something up, and they often get it wrong. Why leave it to them?
Expand your feelings vocabulary
Dogs are very expressive. To describe their feelings, they adjust their tail-wagging frequency, tail-wagging amplitude, and even their tail curl.
How many different smiles do you have? How many ways do you know to tell someone that you feel hurt or offended, or to ask for what you need to put things right?
Send consistent messages
Dogs also use facial expressions, ear position, posture, and vocalization to communicate. Usually all these messages are consistent, and when they aren't, the dog is saying, "I have many different feelings."
When we conceal or pretend, a little bit of truth leaks out, and we confuse the people around us. When we drop the concealment and pretense, consistency is easier.

Perhaps you have a dog, or you have a friend who does. Spend some time with him or her — just you and the dog. Go for a walk together (the dog will not object). Laze around. Play. Notice how easily the dog communicates feelings. Soon, you'll be doing it too. Effortlessly. Go to top Top  Next issue: Time Management in a Hurry  Next Issue

Rick BrennerThe article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More

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See also Emotions at Work and Effective Communication at Work for more related articles.

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When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
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