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Everything I Know About Effective Communication I Learned from My Dog

happy dogYou can have the best ideas in the world, but they are no use to you or your company if you can’t express your thoughts clearly and persuasively.

For over 15,000 years, humankind has had a close bond with “man’s best friend,” the dog. During this time, dogs have developed an amazing ability to engage with humans. Dogs are great models for four fundamental skills it takes to communicate effectively, according to Garry McDaniel and Sharon Massen.

McDaniel and Massen are professors at Franklin University, authors of The Dog’s Guide to Your Happiness: Seven Secrets for a Better Life from Man’s Best Friend, and speak on what individuals and organizations can learn from dogs about leadership, team building, and customer service.

“Whether it is through verbal or non-verbal communication, life is ultimately about relationships with your friends, family, coworkers, clients, and customers,” McDaniel said. “All the talent and good intentions in the world means very little if you are not able to communicate effectively with others.”

Here are four tips from Panda the dog on how to better communicate with one another:

Pay Attention! “When my dog, Panda, meets another dog, they both focus on each other. They are not looking around, staring at squirrels, or sniffing a tree. If your workplace is like most, when you are trying to convey an important message to someone else, they are typing at their PC, texting, or reading something while paying lip service to what you are trying to say. As a result, they don’t get the full message, mistakes or misunderstandings ensue, relationships are damaged, and productivity suffers. So lesson one from Panda is: stop what you are doing and pay attention to whoever is talking to you.”

garryListen Actively! One reason humans like dogs so much is they listen even though they don’t understand what we are saying and they don’t provide advice or opinions. You can count on your dog to sit and listen with rapt attention as your pour out your feelings, sorrows, ideas, or dreams. How many of your friends or co-workers are as thrilled to listen to what you have to say? Dogs “listen” actively by paying very close attention to body posture, vocalizations and eye contact. Good communicators in the workplace not only pay attention, but also observe the congruence between what is being said and how it is being said- body language, vocal tone and volume, and facial expressions. Panda’s second tip is to listen not just to the content of the message, but to how the message is being conveyed.

Respond! Dogs communicate well by focusing, listening actively, and by responding appropriately. For example, after Panda and his new buddy have determined that they are both friendly, they go through some typical doggy “pleasantries” and get to the business of playing. They do this by assuming a “play bow” position that indicates to their companion that everything from this point on is for fun! If Panda misread the interaction, the other dog will not return the play bow gesture and Panda would know another strategy for interaction is needed. It is one thing to pay attention and listen actively; it is another thing to ensure one has understood the message correctly by how you respond. Good communicators reply in a manner that helps the other party know that the message was received accurately. Panda’s third tip for good communication is to ensure what you think you heard is actually what the other person said by repeating, summing up, or re-stating the message until the other person acknowledges you understood the message correctly.

Be Positive! Anyone who has a dog knows you can say the most endearing things to a dog in a harsh, angry voice, and the dog will slink away and hide. The new science of positive psychology recognizes that while personal or organizational problems must be addressed, doing so from a positive framework is far more effective than belittling, berating, and criticizing. Thus, Panda’s final tip for great communication is to frame your communication in positive terms; give more positive feedback than negative and seek to determine what is working right instead of constantly zeroing in what others are doing wrong. Give life to others instead of sucking all of the energy, creativity, and enthusiasm from the room.

Karen Dybis

Karen is an editor and writer for Corp! Magazine. She graduated from the University of Michigan and has worked at The Mackinac Island Town Crier, The Kalamazoo Gazette, The (Adrian) Daily Telegram and The Oakland Press. Karen spent five years at The Detroit News as a business writer with stints in retail, workplace issues and personal finance. Dybis also was a blogger on Time magazine's "Assignment: Detroit" project.

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