Dogs Are Good Role Models for Humans
My dog, Lukas, has a kennel, a black wire pen that’s big enough for him to stand up in. We keep it in the living room. When we’re hanging out in the living room, Lukas hangs out with us, sometimes sprawled out in his kennel, sometimes curled up under our feet on the floor.
Lukas loves his kennel. It’s his private little house inside our house. He has a soft quilt covering the floor and he often brings a toy or two inside to keep him company.
He also loves to look out the living room window, monitoring who is coming and going. He stands watch, waiting to alert us to possible intruders and impending dangers, usually of the feline kind.
He goes crazy when he sees the tabby cat from next door, parading around our front yard. Maybe it’s simply unbearable that the cat is free to roam while Lukas has to stay indoors. He barks like a madman, loud and nonstop, and gets overly excited and worked up.
And…then…he stops and goes to his kennel and calms down.
In earlier days, I would tell him to stop barking and “go to bed”: the command to go lie down in his kennel. What amazes me is that now, without my saying a word, he’ll stop barking and go snuggle down in the kennel. He can “go to bed” and quiet himself, on his own, without needing to hear my command.
This exemplifies a negotiation competency I call “emotional self-management.” The question of the day is, if a dog can demonstrate emotional self-management, why do so many people fail at it?
Emotional Self-Management for People
Emotional self-management is essential when negotiating with a difficult person or handling stubborn conflicts, whether at work or at home. Lukas’ behavior provides a model for how intelligent but stubborn, self-righteous humans like ourselves can practice emotional self-management.
What can we do? It’s a matter of first figuring out where we can go to get calm, and secondly remembering about that safe space when we are getting upset and losing our focus. Of course, people don’t have kennels to snuggle down in, but many of you do have rooms in your house that you find soothing, or places in the outdoors you go to when you need to get away from stress and change your perspective about what’s going on in your life.
In the moment of conflict and stressful negotiation, however, that safe place has to be within reach. For me, I stop and connect with my body. That is how I return to my center, my calmness and my equanimity in order to continue to mediate with people who are really mad at each other, or mad at me (which does happen occasionally.)
In a nutshell, here’s what I do:
- Stop and breathe in a measured but not forced way: a couple of slow breaths in and a few slow breaths out.
- Then I find the place in my body where I can sense the tension, fear, confusion, or anger. For me, it’s usually in my heart area or my belly. I spend a few minutes there, just feeling, sensing, and allowing the feeling and sensation to be.
- Many times, the emotion that’s locking me up and keeping me from being present will dissolve, just by my recognition of it.
- If it doesn’t, I breathe into the place in my body where this gunk is sitting – this time to release it on the outbreath. It might take a few breaths when you’re just learning this.
We can’t always run away from conflict, tension, anger, sadness, or other overwhelming emotions when we are trying to handle something in “real time.” We can’t always leave the room and take a walk. That makes it even more important to have a handy strategy such as this one for regaining your self-control, calmness and clarity in a simple, uncomplicated way.