Last summer I adopted a rescue dog. Her name is WiFi (pronounced WeeFee...the French way) and she is the love of my life.
To say she’s spoiled is to make a joke of the word “understatement.” Whatever I can figure out that might make her happy, I’m on it. She gives me unconditional love and I do my best to do the same.
But someone taught her to flinch. And I can’t do anything about that.
WiFi was just two years old when we met. Sadly, the folks that were fostering her had no background information about her. She was just there. In a cage with her brother (who, I’m happy to say, was adopted the same day). Laying quietly. Waiting.
When I took her for a stroll around the pet store sponsoring the adoptions, she walked slowly and low to the ground. She seemed to need to catch her breath every so often, as if walking around was something she didn’t get a lot of chances to do.
She also threw up, pooped and turned over so I could rub her belly. How could I not fall in love?
It didn’t take long after moving in with me for her coat to get shiny, her eyes to get bright and for me to find out that her normal “walk” is a prance. She also still loves to have her belly rubbed.
But sometimes she flinches when I reach out to pet her. And I can’t do anything about that.
Something happened during those two years that preceded her time with me that taught her that sometimes, just sometimes - and you never know when - a hand that provides support and love is also a hand that hits.
And that got me thinking about employees and the reasons they react the way they do - and executives and managers can’t figure out why...especially when those executives and managers have made a point of treating their people well.
Too many organizations are designed to make their employees flinch. To distrust. To expect the worst...or the best only in bread crumbs.
As a result, too many employees are taught not to speak honestly or put new ideas forward or participate and collaborate. Sometime in their past, they did. And they were taught to flinch.
No matter how much you know about the people working for and with you, you’ll never know what happened before. Even if they tell you. Because no matter how clear the words, the outcomes - emotional, psychological and, sometimes, spiritual - can never be fully expressed to or understood by others.
All you can do is watch and do your best to identify those times that your employees ‘flinch.’
You may ask the question, “why?” - but you shouldn’t count on getting a clear answer. They may not be able or willing to give that to you.
You, however, can track those times that you’re getting a response that, to you, makes no sense. As you identify those trends, you can adjust to ensure that they are able to contribute the most they have to offer. Because they want to. Because they like being there. Because they feel valued and valuable.
For all the years that WiFi and I will be together, I’ll watch for those flinches - always with the hope that, someday, they’ll go away.
What I know is that, through all those years to come, I’ll do everything I can to make that happen.