At the end of October, scientists from the Italian University of Trento shed light on how the unconscious movements of a dog’s tail are linked to its mood and interpreted by others. The study was a breakthrough in animal communication, because it proves that dogs are reading one another’s body language. It will also give owners, vets, and trainers better insight into their emotions.
This got me thinking about all those times that I’ve subconsciously given out signals with my body language, and what else we could learn from our canine friends about unconscious communication and collaboration.
Remember: People Can See You Wag Your Tail
According to the study, pet pooches have learnt to pick up on subtle differences in tail wags. Research from psychology professor, Albert Mehrabian, emphasises the importance of non-verbal communication in people, too, with body language accounting for 55% of the messages we convey. This serves as a reminder that your colleagues will pick-up on small changes in your behaviour without you even realising you’re acting a certain way. Smiling and keeping eye contact whilst listening will make a world of difference to your team’s motivation. It’s our version of wagging our tails the right way.
Speak Up When You Want Attention
Dogs aren’t afraid to speak up when they want someone’s attention — anyone who’s ever been shocked by a sudden bark knows that. Professor Brian Hare found that they also use distinctive growls when they want food, are reacting to the presence of a stranger, and when feeling lonely.
If only we were all as confident about expressing our wants and fears! Finding the appropriate way to speak up is vitally important, as how you do (or don’t) express yourself at work directly influences people’s opinions of who you are and what you’re capable of. Silent wall-flowers may struggle to manage a team, but no one likes the person barking orders all the time. A balance must be struck. Consider whether you’re communicating in the way that you’d want to be perceived, or if you’re making a poor lasting impression.
Form a Close-Knit Pack
Dogs are pack animals, operating at their best when part of a tightly knit group that has a clear hierarchy. Sound’s a lot like the average office, right? Projects will be more successful if people have clearly defined roles within their team, and more importantly, a positive relationship with one another. Our own Brian Flax discusses the value of team-building in his latest post here. Consider who would make the best alpha-leaders in your pack. It’s not always those who bark the loudest!
Find the Right Role for Your Breed
Different breeds are used for distinct jobs which suit their temperament. For example, Labrador Retrievers are the most commonly used as Guide Dogs because they are easy to train, socialise well with humans, and have a relaxed temperament. Meanwhile, Border Collies are used to herd sheep because of their intense mental and physical stamina. They love working hard and stepping up to a challenge.
Consider your team’s personal qualities and whether they really match their role. Are they an easy-going Labrador who struggles to keep up in a fast-paced environment, or a workaholic Border Collie who thrives on the thrill of the chase? Tweaking someone’s role to better suit their strengths will naturally make them more productive.