I was in the home stretch of my walk with my Pug Miles. It was a cold day, and I had dreaded taking this walk the whole afternoon. Despite the cold, I was warming up as we walked briskly to the back of the neighborhood. When Miles was sufficiently tired, we made our way to the front and turned right on our street.
I was lost in thought, finding it ironic that what I had initially dreaded, had become an enjoyable experience. Out of nowhere, I heard yelling and commotion. Before I could react, I looked to my left and saw a large dog barreling toward us at a breakneck speed. A young boy followed, running as fast as his legs could carry him.
To paint a clearer picture, Miles is 11 years old and is not the most athletic dog, and his hearing leaves much to be desired. Pugs are passive dogs by nature and in all the years we’ve had Pugs, I’ve never seen one show any aggression. Basically, they’re wimps. As you can imagine, this other dog definitely had the advantage.
Miles didn’t anticipate a dog in the next few seconds invading his space. Before I could react, the dog was attacking, growling, and ferociously biting at his neck.
What happened next surprised me. Guttural, horrible sounds were coming out of Miles. Once he got his bearings, he was aggressively attacking this large dog right back. I couldn’t pull them apart, and I was fearful that I was going to be bit by this dog in the process. Finally, the young boy secured his dog, apologized profusely, and left us to walk the rest of the way back home.
When I got home, I checked Miles everywhere to ensure that he hadn’t gotten bit anywhere. You see, this is not the first time Miles has been attacked by a dog. In the past, we have ended up at the vet getting stiches.
Reflecting on the experience, I realized that Miles had learned from his traumatic events that when in doubt, be aggressive. I have seen this side of him and questioned why his reaction was way too extreme and didn’t fit the situation. Not a normal response from a pug, but one that he learned from being in some harrowing circumstances.
And that’s my point to sharing this story.
Think about someone in your personal or professional life that you feel comes on a little too strong. Someone that with the most minor of slight, goes for the jugular. Maybe you refer to this person as being too high strung, or maybe too thin-skinned. Chances are that they have learned this response from their past experiences. They live by a belief system that says, “fight back quickly because people will hurt you” or “people will always take advantage of you”. Therefore, they overcompensate when something happens and go from 0-60 when it doesn’t merit such a reaction.
Maybe as a leader, you have made judgments about this person without considering what’s beneath the quick response. Consider that just maybe this individual really isn’t quite as “mean” as you think, but they “bite back” when the circumstance doesn’t necessarily call for that reaction. Understanding and a productive conversation can lead to this person gaining more self-awareness and the ability to control their reactions.
Leave the judgment at the door and strive for positive change.