A Four-Paw Approach To Resilience In The Workplace

This blog was first published on WhatCharity.com.

It definitely raises an eyebrow or two when I tell people that we learn from the wisdom of rescue dogs in order to build resilience in the workplace. Yes, that means a rescue dog joins me as a canine co-tutor to deliver the workshop!

We’re no longer living in a world where we have job security for life; we have new opportunities and choices available to us on a daily basis. We’re facing continual change, yet our brains are still operating at a level where change equals danger and all it wants to do is keep us safe. Change isn’t a bad thing, of course, but try telling your brain that as you set foot into your manager’s office and mutter, ‘I have an idea for a completely new and innovative way to deliver all of our projects!

Your brain will be sending you a monologue along the lines of, ‘this is a really bad idea, they’ve always done it this way, who are you to try and make a change, you know everyone will think you’ve lost the plot, there’s a chance you’ll lose your job over this, you’ll never work again, you’ll be a laughing stock. Seriously, why are you still walking towards your manager’s office? Stop. DANGER!

As a business, encouraging your team to embrace change and learn to cope in a way that enhances the way you work has to be worth developing. So, why do we need a canine co-tutor to help us learn and change and building resilience?

We have four top-tips, courtesy of our rescue dog co-tutors, which will help you to see things from their perspective.

  1. Health first

How would you feel if I walked into your office to deliver a workshop, with my canine co-tutor by my side, and said to you ‘oh, I didn’t have time to walk her this morning and she hasn’t had her breakfast yet but don’t worry, she’ll be fine.

You would, rightly, be wondering who had allowed me to take this beautiful creature out of the safety of the rescue centre and get on the phone to complain about my neglectful behaviour. You would also, rightly, be concerned about the wellbeing of the dog and worried about how they would cope for the duration of the session.

Yet, how often do you and your team members skip breakfast, grab a coffee as morning fuel and decide that next Monday will definitely be the day that the exercise regime starts again?

  • Showing vulnerability

I was delivering a workshop in a large office building recently and I needed to take my canine co-tutor in a lift to reach the training room. We were at the venue early and did some pressure-free practice as a lift was a brand new experience for the dog. Imagine the noise of the doors and being encouraged to walk into a small mirrored box where the noisy doors trap you inside and then the whole world starts to move before allowing you to escape into somewhere completely different. If that isn’t resilience-building in action, I don’t know what is.

Anyway, my brave co-tutor took this in her stride until we returned from our lunchtime toilet and nap break. The lift already had people inside it and she froze. ‘Nope, I’m done with the world moving and sending me to a parallel universe, I’m fine here.

The second she froze, someone held the door and started talking to her, encouraging her, dropped to her level and opened their arms to help show her that it was safe.

What a lovely dog, she has a lovely nature,’ another person said as my co-tutor accepted the help and encouragement and stepped into the mirrored vortex.

The energy in the elevator lifted (pun intended) and there was a collective celebration that they had helped ease the fears of my friend and responded fabulously to an honest display of vulnerability.

Being in need of help is not weakness, it is something we all experience and something that allows us to learn and evolve from when we’re treated with respect and kindness. Offering help and seeing the difference you can make to another living soul is a money-can’t-buy self-esteem enhancer.

  • Effective communication

Working with a dog is the perfect test of whether or not you can use every skill at your disposal to communicate effectively.

Does your body language, tone of voice and instruction match in such a way that the person, or dog, receiving the information understands what is expected of them?

Communication lies at the heart of every business, whether it’s within the team, communicating with clients or delivery partners and ensuring that your message reaches new people to enhance growth.

While humans often nod and agree in order to limit the chance of them looking silly when they don’t understand, a dog won’t be quite so worried about what you think. Getting back to basics with what you want to say and how that information can be effectively delivered is something we all need to take the time to consider.

There are two main reasons why a dog won’t do something they’ve been asked to do. The first is that they don’t understand the cue and the second is that they’re not motivated enough to do what has been asked of them. Do those reasons resonate with you?!

  • Goal setting

Let’s face it, we all know about goal setting and we know that if we want to run a successful business it’s vital to the planning process.

Yet, we still often find that targets are missed and goals are not achieved.

When teaching a dog a new cue, we have to start with being super-clear on our desired outcome so that we can teach the behaviour in a way that will lead us directly to what we need to achieve. We don’t start training recall with a vague aim that the dog will return to within five metres of us an hour or so after we have called them. We know that we want the dog to come back to us at lightening-speed when they hear us call. Therefore, we know that at each step we need to reinforce the responses that get us closer to the end result.

The beauty of working with a dog is that they will SHOW you exactly what has been reinforced because that’s the behaviour they’ll repeat, whether you like it or not!

If there are members of your team who aren’t following the instructions you thought you had given or you can see they’re working hard but they’re not quite reaching their goals, you can start to look at the ways in which you can help and support them to develop in a positive way. It’s not about a lack of enthusiasm, just understanding how to communicate differently with people to ensure the team’s goals are achieved.

I have found that working with a canine co-tutor eradicates any risk of judgement or defensiveness when learning about resilience and how we can show up as our best selves at work. The inclusion of a dog provides a calm atmosphere as there’s an immediate shared goal around ensuring that the dog benefits from the session as much as the humans do. For a rescue dog, that often includes learning that humans are kind, consistent and respectful; skills that are immediately transferrable. The fun that we have from engaging with the dog and seeing their confidence grow provides the perfect environment for us all to learn and it creates a meaningful way of changing behaviour.

While there’s no doubt that social enterprises have a lot to learn from the world of business, I believe that businesses can learn from the innovative ways in which social enterprises are providing solutions through lived experience. For us, we know that dogs are the difference that makes the difference!

Share this Post