Commentary: What your pets can teach you about communication in business


As the reality of a new year settles in upon us, we may all need to slow down for a few minutes and decide how we will handle all the changes a new year brings. We need to prepare our crew and ourselves to maximize the opportunities and challenges both known and unknown.

Three important concepts for building a great culture include: excellent communication; the courage to explore all the possibilities; the consistency to keep learning.

Communication is both a skill and an art. My dog Angel taught me about communication, listening, and persistence.

One evening, we were in the kitchen engrossed in conversation and I was ignoring Angel. She started nose-butting us, one by one. Then she started barking. Then whining. Then butting and barking. We all assumed she wanted to go outside, yet she wouldn’t go when we opened the door. This continued for several minutes.

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Angel’s next move was noticeable and significant. She walked over to her water dish and forcefully planted both front feet on either side, dropped her head, and heaved a very loud, dramatic sigh! The water dish was empty! She had told us over and over, but we hadn’t listened. Instead of giving up, she used several different methods and tones, including body language, to make her point.

Effective communication requires that we try different methods, that we pay attention to our body language, and that we be attentive to our tone and words. Our responsibility as leaders is to be persistent until the crew hears us. This is much more difficult than it sounds, but here are some questions to ask yourself about your leadership communication style:

  • Do I demonstrate the active listening skills that my employees will need to use when I speak to them?
  • Am I building the right background for them?
  • Am I starting in the middle of the story and assuming they know what I know?
  • Have I presented the information from their perspective, starting with why they should care?
  • Have I been concise but clear?

Like Angel, remember to use body language, tone of voice, and careful selection of your words to make your point. Here are the guidelines for how your message is received:

  • 58% Visual (body language, facial expression)
  • 35% Vocal (tone of voice)
  • 7% Verbal (the words you choose)

Access all three to have the best chance of full comprehension of your message!

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Another precious pet, Luke, taught us to always keep learning!

Luke was 9 years old when we found him, past middle age, and he lived to be 14. We don’t know his previous life, but he had to learn to be a pet.  We had to teach him to sit on the couch with us, sleep in our bed, and play with dog toys. He literally bounced with joy every day until he passed at 14.

He adapted to the changes that came when we rescued him, and once we gained his trust, he was always ready to try something new.

Discover joy in the workplace by continually refining all your skills and talents and making that a daily habit, like Luke.

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Finally, do some exploring!

Napoleon was a little cockatiel, just eight inches long (plus tail). He didn’t mind the height of my shoulder and loved to hang out with me. He would crawl down from the cage and he started walking all over the house alone – even rooms where he’d never been! He was fearless.

Napoleon lived a full life in six years. We had a screened porch out back and he spent many long, warm days running around in there! He was never afraid of anything and never ran out of energy to go exploring.

As business leaders, it benefits us as well to keep exploring the various options and tools to grow, challenge ourselves, and remain relevant to our customers.

Personal exploration is vital to our health as an organism, as a thinking entity, and as a leader. So how should we keep our brains firing on all cylinders? How do we aid our crew in the pursuit of logic and wisdom?

Allow and encourage exploration and the pursuit of new challenges! This enhances problem-solving skills, and that usually means more efficiency and higher profits.

So, if you want to really kick off the rest of this year with a culture-building plan, start by taking the time to:

  • communicate well
  • never stop learning
  • be courageous in your exploration of better solutions

Your business culture will thrive, your crew will respond with joy and growth will be accelerated!

Lisa H. Harrington is founder of Abiding Strategy, a Trophy Club-based consulting practice specializing in all elements of business strategy and leadership. With four decades as an author, strategy coach and leadership keynote, her vision is to bring joy into the workplace and “build better bosses together.” For more information visit the Abiding Strategy website.