Perhaps the most simple and yet useful insight I’ve gained is the power of the personal story. I've learned through my work in communications that despite attempts to reach audiences by promoting organizational goals, processes or achievements, audiences tend to resonate with a story that touches them in some way. So I’ve decided to share a story that’s been on my mind for a few days.
I was on one of my frequent power walks through the neighbourhood about a month ago, when I came across a woman playing ball with her dog. Like most dogs, he was eagerly on the chase after each throw. Although he was fast, there was something about his gait that made me look closer. The black-border collie mix was galloping around the grass on three legs.
I was intrigued so I moved closer. Apparently this fascination was mutual because when our eyes met, he stopped, put his head down and slowly walked in my direction. Then he paused several feet away, eyeing me cautiously.
Removing my earphones, I approached the woman with the obvious inquiry.
The story was painful to hear. Abused as a pup, his rescuers realized that one leg was so badly infected for unknown reasons and it had to be amputated. He was only a year old when he was adopted by the woman who confessed to me how he’d enriched her life. Bear, was his name.
But he’s wary of strangers, she said, as she noticed his gaze from a distance. I reached out my hand in a gesture of friendship, but the movement made him turn and run in the opposite direction. Given his story, it made sense.
A couple of weeks later I bumped into the two again. Bear was eagerly frolicking on the grass, catching the ball in his mouth. The woman recognized me and we exchanged greetings. Bear stopped in his tracks and looked over. Was there a hint of recognition in the dark eyes? Slowly, his graceful three legged stride followed his gaze and I reached out my hand. This time he allowed a couple of feet between us before he turned and walked away.
Ok, perhaps not yet I thought. Perhaps never, given his experience with humans. I walked home, a little disappointed, wondering if it was his experience, or was it me. Animals after all, have instincts we could not hope to posses.
This past weekend however, I went biking with a friend. At our meeting spot, two people and a wet dog approached. The animal’s gait was recognizable. Bear.
He’d been swimming in the creek, his adopted mother explained.
“Bear,” I called. “Hey buddy, how are you?”
Without hesitation, he confidently strolled in my direction. When he was close, I reached out my hand to allow a sniff. He move closer, allowing me to scratch his neck and gently stroke his head. And when I stopped, a soft nudge asked me to do it just a little bit more.
“He probably recognized your voice,” the woman said.
As you can imagine, it was a euphoric event. He trusted me.
I admit I wasn’t sure I would ever feel the softness of his fur in my fingers. But it really was a good reminder that time, patience and understanding can get us further than we expect. It doesn’t hurt to put ourselves in the other’s position either. Really, that’s the key to effective communication.