About a decade ago, my friend and coach Gay Hendricks told me a story I’ll never forget. His grandfather was troubled by the neighbor’s dog, which would howl in the evening and keep everyone up. Gay’s grandfather went out in the middle of the night and left a bowl of food for the dog, hoping to quiet it. It worked, but the same howling plagued the neighborhood the next night. And so he went out again and fed it.
The problem continued night after night — dog would howl, Grandpa would go out and feed it — until Gay’s grandmother, completely fed up with this endless cycle, said, “Stop feeding the damn dog!” Grandpa stopped catering to the dog. Three days later, it stopped barking and everyone in the neighborhood went back to sleeping through the night.
Gay’s grandmother was right, and I often think of this story when I’m faced with barking dogs in my own life. While that dog may have been pleasant enough, we all know that a bark can soon escalate to a bite. The worst thing you can do to quiet a barking dog is give him what he wants. Every time you do that, you make yourself irritated, and you make him more empowered.
We’ve all had to deal with barking dogs in our personal and professional lives. These are the folks who make their needs very clear and who have little regard for what’s good for you. Sometimes it comes in the form of people making demands of you that aren’t yours to fill, sometimes it’s dealing with someone else’s self-inflicted drama, and other times it goes as far as defending yourself from an attack.
Over the years, I’ve learned how to deal with barking dogs. A few pieces of advice:
- Realize that the more you do to make an impact, and the more well-known you become, the more barking dogs you will have to deal with. People love heroes and they love to see heroes fail.
- Listen to the bark, but think before reacting. Understand the dog doesn’t care about you. He cares about himself.
- Recognize that someone else’s crisis isn’t necessarily your crisis. You have to determine whether or not you have to engage. The late great Stephen Covey (author of my favorite book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”) advised us to focus on our Circle of Influence, and not get mired in a Circle of Concern, things over which we have little or no control. “Gaining an awareness of the areas in which we expend our energies in is a giant step in becoming proactive,” he wrote. Don’t let the things you can’t control steal attention from the areas where you can make a difference. Never let the howls and barks derail you from where you need to go. The only way to greatness is to not allow people to hold you back!
Just as important as dealing well with barking dogs is never becoming a barking dog! Sometimes you get what you want. But people are pretty quick to this game and will feel resentment or frustration. Keep the following in mind:
- We all have crises from time to time. But don’t create drama. At eBay, during a crisis, we would call “911s”, where we asked people to dedicate themselves to work 24/7 to fix an issue. It was amazing what we were able to accomplish, but it wasn’t a sustainable way to work, so we built certain rules around when to use them and we only used them sparingly.
- Remember that everything goes back to the laws of physics: Newton’s law stated that or every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. There is collateral damage that happens from whatever wounds you inflict. This is a case where the ripple effect is not positive. Be like the diver who gets the best score by slicing into the water with no splash or ripple. Don’t make excessive noise. Don’t keep Grandpa up all night barking. Just get the job done as elegantly as possible.