To avoid a dog’s bite, try changing your own response

This headline caught my eye in yesterday’s Portland Oregonian. I’m not a pet owner so I don’t usually read this column. But the headline alone was worth the price of the paper. It highlights the place of our response in dealing with challenging circumstances. Columnist Deborah Wood suggests that the safest response to an aggressive dog is to remain still. She says schools teach kids to “be a tree.”

When we’re talking about aggressive church members, being passive is not always a good idea. But, as Wood says, “Running, yelling, direct eye contact and moving your arms are all likely to make things more dangerous.” When we get aggressive in turn, or panic, the situation is likely to escalate.

Perhaps the most important lesson is that the problem is not only “in” the people we perceive as the problem. Our response to them plays a role in the difficulties. When we can stay calm (not an easy matter) and keep our heads, we’ll find it easier to navigate thorny relationships. And other key leaders, who can be critical allies when things heat up, will also be more likely to think clearly and keep the congregation’s best interests in view.

2 replies on “To avoid a dog’s bite, try changing your own response

  • Margaret Marcuson

    Yes, and we can get better over time at not showing our reactions. Edwin Friedman’s phrase, “the non-anxious presence,” doesn’t mean we don’t feel anxious, but that we work on managing our anxiety (our “sweat”) rather than letting it control us.

  • Israel Galindo

    Good advice. I’d also add the old, “Never let them see you sweat.” Often “standing still” (appearing non-responsive) elicits “barking”–an attempt to get some kind of reaction in order to know how to approach. So, if you stand still and someone barks, don’t let them see you react or sweat. Consider how to respond instead.


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