Lessons about emotion learned from a Chihuahua

 

My daughter Hayley was recently staying with me and brought her Chihuahua. Having owned and trained dogs, I was happy to have Murphy (not a particularly Mexican-sounding name) to stay over as well. However Murphy is quite protective of Hayley and can be aggressive and snappy if you don’t approach him the right way.

After a day of feeding him treats and having him get used to me, I started to get quite relaxed about putting my hand near him – and that’s when I made my mistake. I went to pat him when he wasn’t looking, and when he suddenly saw my hand, he went for it with all teeth bared!

It gave me a hell of a fright and I pulled back just in time to avoid losing any fingers.

But I wasn’t upset or angry in any way.

Two reasons: firstly, Murphy couldn’t really do me much damage. He’s the smallest dog I’ve seen and although he was being aggressive, I didn’t really think that I was going to be hurt.

Second: Murphy was just reacting from his own emotions – probably fear – and so his response was understandable and logical.

So I didn’t attach meaning to his action. It didn’t mean anything about me, it didn’t mean we would never be friends and it didn’t mean that other dogs would react in the same way.

Sometimes audience members react in ways that CAN trigger us. They ask difficult questions – they’ll challenge the data we’re presenting – and they get picky about almost anything, even if it’s not really germane to the presentation topic.

A few days after Hayley’s visit, I was speaking to a group with one or two members who were just like that. Just like Murphy! They were being driven by their emotions – possibly fear (of having to change) – and were snapping and sniping. But they couldn’t do me much damage – it was mainly just show!

And I thought about my reaction to Murphy and I reacted to them in exactly the same way. I was patient – I was understanding – and I didn’t make it mean anything about me!

Perhaps you can find your own analogy – a pet or small child – to call on, next time you’re dealing with someone who’s challenging. Visualise using the technique BEFORE you’re in the situation – that way you avoid the “emotional hi-jack” that can so often get to us when we’re unexpectedly triggered.

You may be surprised and proud at how well you handle yourself.

Photocredit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/elliotmar/




Want more speaking tips delivered to your inbox?