Some of you know I’m a dog lover and that Rod and I share our home life with a giant canine named Hugo and a wee guy, Luigi. And two cats.
Hugo is a mutt, Golden Retriever and Newfoundland. A couple of weeks ago, he suffered his third idiopathic vestibular incident. It’s a mystifying syndrome without a clear cause, but just picture a dog who looks like he’s had a stroke and you’ll get the right idea: stumbling in circles because legs on one side have stopped working, drooling out of one side of his mouth (instead of both sides for a change!), temporarily blind in one eye, bouncing off inanimate objects he doesn’t see on that side.
The first time it happened it was terrifying. By the third time, we knew it for what it is. Most vestibular incidents resolve in a few hours to a few days. This time it took over two weeks.
Ok, so you’ve got the image of a giant black dog who looks like he’s had a stroke. Now add the image of a tall contemporary house with four half-floors and the main living area—kitchen, dining room, living room—on the top floor, essentially up in the tree canopy.
Ah, now you’re really getting the picture. Many, many stairs. Big black dog who can’t get the legs on one side of his body to work properly. Oak floors in the entire house, not great for claw traction. Tammy making special trips to the acupuncturist due to the back injury from attempting to carry said dog up and down the stairs rolled in an old sheet with just his head peeking out (don’t even ask). Rod attempting not to hurt his already temperamental back. Luigi trying to stay out the way so he doesn’t get stepped on. And cats involved in the way cats always are.
Believe it or not, there really is something about this story that has to do with difficult situations and problem solving at work.
Eventually, Hugo got his legs and paws working approximately right. But by now the stairs freaked him out. So, our normally silent and stoic Gewfie became The Whimperer. We stopped living in the only room on the ground floor, Rod’s home office, and decided to let Hugo figure out how to make his peace with the stairs. For days he stood at the bottom, whimpering in a way that’s particularly pathetic when you weigh about 100 pounds and have paws the size of ponies’ hooves. We attempted to harden our hearts and appealed to him by way of his stomach, usually an effective strategy with the Mouth That Ate Manhattan.
Finally, going up got to be a generally non-traumatic event. But going down remained akin to me going to the top of the Empire State Building—I’d rather be tarred and feathered. Even the harness Rod bought especially so we could help him hold his weight (instead of choking him by hanging on to his collar) didn’t offer enough inspiration or courage. Down was out.
Then, one morning when I was in a hurry to get to work, Hugo got stuck three half-levels up. He wouldn’t even come close to the edge of the stairs going down. He just picked up his red and yellow squeaky toy (think Linus’ blanket) and stared at me dolefully. Have you ever attempted to get a 100-pound dog to do something he doesn’t want to?
I cajoled. I cheered. I ordered. I clapped and danced. I told him I knew he could do it. I flaunted a fistful of biscuits, which only served to get the drool really going. Finally, I grabbed the harness and started gently pulling him toward the stair edge. He put the brakes on and his landing gear collapsed, the two legs on the stricken side splaying outward. I helped him back up, trying to keep Hugo hair off my lovely knit skirt and pulling my scarf back from his lip, where it had stuck to the biscuit-tinted drool.
I thought about how I would explain this to my client if I was late. Well, you see, we have this dog, and… I stared at my drooly scarf. Oh, that? Just a bit of dog slobber…it’s dry now, so no worries!
Hugo, who normally goes down the stairs on the right side of the staircase, stared at me as I stood on the left side of the landing. Then he walked over and nudged me to the right with his snout. Then he stumble-ran down the stairs to the next landing, moving diagonally from left at the top to right on the bottom.
Of course he needed to go diagonally. His right side wasn’t working properly so everything he did was slightly diagonal. By standing where I was, I had actually been preventing him from doing what I was asking him to do.
It was a stupid-human moment. But Hugo was very graceful in his treatment of me afterward, never lording it over me, kind soul that he is.
If you’re supervising someone at work, someone with a history of problem behaviors or poorly handled conflict, how will you make sure you’re giving them the right space to achieve what you’re asking?