Being in the Moment. What my Dog Taught me About Presence.

If you listen to the book, The Obstacle Is the Way, on Audible there is an interview between the author, Ryan Holiday and Tim Ferriss, author of 4-hour Workweek at the end of the recording. It is a fascinating interview and at one point Tim asks Ryan what he is grateful for. Ryan responds, his dog because he helps keep him present. I immediately connected. My dog, Baci, is the most joyful, present being I know and I absolutely learn from her every day. What My Dog Taught Me About Presence.

Baci is a 6 year old Brittany who we have owned since she was 2 months old. Outside of being a pain to get house broken (I think it took almost 2 years), she is the best dog I have ever owned. I think she’s had an influence on our entire family, as she shares her joy and love unabashedly. So if one dog can change the culture of a house, imagine what you could do if you could adopt some her greatest attributes.

Here is what she has taught me:

1. Smile. Many dogs like Spaniels and Retrievers have a smiling face. The smile is infectious. You cannot look at a smiling dog and not smile back. So do you want to be infectious? Do you want your coworkers or your friends to be drawn to you? Think about smiling more often. Show up to the meeting with a smile. To the party. To the conference call. People will “hear” the smile. Curl up the ends of your mouth and let those pearly whites shine. Smile.

2. Eye contact. When Baci wants something (usually the door being opened so she can go run after a squirrel), she walks right over and makes eye contact. She gets my attention by staring deeply into my eyes. Imagine going into a meeting and the only way you could communicate is through your eyes. They cannot be ignored. I can see how this might be taken too far as staring down your boss in a meeting might be counterproductive but making eye contact is so important in getting someone to take notice. Be sure to make eye contact.

3. Touch. Reach out and touch. This may seem too familiar in the business setting and I grant you that women have more latitude than men when it comes to touching. There are many women that I hug when they come for an annual strategy meeting but not the men. It’s tricky and for all I know, it’s a Southern thing. But when Baci wants to be scratched, she reaches out and taps my hand or nuzzles me on my arm. Connecting with someone by just tapping them on the shoulder or the back of their elbow or shaking their hand can greatly enhance the outcome. You are more connected to someone when you touch them.

4. Roll. Baci rolls with the punches. She’s not pouting in the corner because I forgot to feed her yesterday or stomping off in a huff because she failed to nab that pesky squirrel before it reached the maple tree. There is another squirrel where that one came from. Dogs don’t end up with ulcers or depression or stress related illnesses. She isn’t ruminating about all the missed opportunities from yesterday or worried about whether or not it will rain this Saturday. She takes it all as it comes. Let it roll.

5. Chill out. Baci can chill out and take a nap ANYWHERE. When we get back from our morning walk, she takes a few sips of water and then heads to her favorite chair to chill out. She takes care of herself. She’s just exerted a lot of energy dragging me around the neighborhood and she sits back and relaxes. Don’t we all need to do that? Instead of focusing on the next task or project. Take 15 minutes and recoup. It helps your demeanor. Take a minute or five to chill out.

6. Love. I don’t know about your dog but my dog loves everyone. I’ll lick your face if you like, let me cuddle with you, I’m your BFF unconditional kind of love. She doesn’t care how old you are, what language you speak or what gender you are. If you are in front of her, she loves you. No questions asked. Imagine having that kind of love for everyone when you head to your next board meeting or widget manufacturing conference or high school reunion. Unconditional love is really freeing. It leaves you open with no attachments. Embody the Baci love (except maybe not licking anyone’s face).

7. Live. Baci inhales life. If it’s running through a pile of leaves, chasing the elusive squirrel, keeping the geese at bay or fetching a tennis ball, she is all in. She doesn’t hold back. If this is the task at hand, she will bring her whole self. I’ve never thrown a tennis ball and have her meander over halfheartedly to pick up the ball. So bring it. To your next project, washing the dishes or writing a blog post. Be all in.

As I write this, my dog is sprawled on the floor next to me. Never self-conscious. Never worried about the judgments of others. It’s so inspiring. Just be.

6 Ways to Make the Best Impression. It Might Even Keep You From Being Sued.

We make snap decisions based on a single interaction. A smile, a glint in the eye can be infectious. Someone holding the door open or handing you the quarter you inadvertently dropped. The small moment of generosity is a gift that keeps giving. On the flip side, something as insignificant as a doctor spending three less minutes with a patient and not asking any questions…or listening to the response, can increase the chances of that doctor being sued for malpractice. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink, he says, “What comes up again and again in malpractice cases is that patients say they were rushed or ignored or treated poorly.” Think of that! There was no appreciable difference in the quality of the care, just a difference in the behavior of the doctor.Making the Best Impression

Nowhere do these snap decisions have a bigger impact than a job interview. In my years of recruiting as a restaurant owner and as a Human Resource professional, I have seen the entire gambit. I’ve had candidates come in to the interview with a toddler and infant in tow. Applicants who fill out the application with just their name and the box that asks what position they are applying for is filled in with “Any”. Then there are waiters who look terrified and never crack a smile. Or recent college grads with their collar and necktie so tight, I thought their head might pop. Special moments like an interviewee who hugged the hiring manager. All these things matter when the decision to have a candidate continue on in the process comes down to the first few seconds of the interview. Most screening interviews (which is what a Human Resource professional is usually doing) can last less than 15 minutes. If you want to move on in the process, you better shine. You can think you will overcome the tight collar, the lack of a smile. But you can’t. I’ve already made a decision, consciously or not, to move on.

So how do we connect with folks and make the best impression? Here are some ideas:

1. Smile. Perception is reality and if you smile, you will be more approachable. This was a painful revelation last year when I took a presenting skills class through Dale Carnegie and my insightful instructor, Jackie Kellso, went over the video tape of my first presentation. I never smiled. I looked angry. I didn’t want to listen to the woman in the video tape (and it was me). By the last video, I was smiling and what a difference it made. It is so much more engaging. Approachable. I want to be around people who smile. You want to be around people who smile. Let’s all smile. And often.

2. Contact. Make eye contact. When I interviewed for a spot at the Cornell Hotel School, I made eye contact with the recruiter and never broke it until he did. Eye contact means you are engaged. It means you are paying attention. This also means you can’t look at your phone or your watch or out the window. Keeping eye contact keeps the other person engaged as well. You can bet that the doctors who were sued for malpractice didn’t make eye contact. They were probably staring at the medical chart. Stay connected by making eye contact. People find it flattering as well.

3. Laugh. Laughter equals joy. I’m not talking about self-deprecating laughter or sarcasm; I’m talking pure laughter without rolling the bus over someone at their expense. I try to find the joy in others: My son doing a Nathan Lane impression, the crazy faces/noises my daughter makes and my dog chasing a squirrel she has no intention of actually catching. Find the joy. The laughter. Who would you rather be around, someone with no sense of humor or someone who can find the joy, even over spilled milk. Laugh.

4. Ratio. Have a five-to-one positive-to-negative ratio in your interactions. John Gottman, the marriage guru, studied over 700 couples. Those couples who dropped below the five-to-one ratio in a 15 minute conversation, predicted a subsequent divorce with a high level of accuracy (81% to 94%). So it’s not just about being positive, it’s about how often you are positive versus negative. So if you tell your spouse, thanks for doing the dishes and then go on a diatribe about all the unfinished chores…no dice. Maintain the ratio with those around you.

5. Body. Look at your body language. Shoulders back. Head erect. Along with feeling more confident, you will sending out a positive impression. I can remember in a class I took that the instructor told us to slump our shoulders, look at the floor and say “I feel great today”. I didn’t feel great when my body language was speaking volumes of the opposite. When asked to do the flip and sit erect and shoulders back and say “I feel lousy today”. My words didn’t not resonate because my body was speaking confidence. What is your body saying in that project proposal, the job interview or on that first date? Pay attention to your body.

6. Connect. If possible, physically connect. A good friend of mine, Susan Passino, was a server with me when I worked at the San Francisco Airport (MANY years ago). She always told me to touch customers on the back of the shoulder if possible. Connecting with someone physically, whether a handshake or a light tap on their shoulder or arm is powerful. Suddenly you are not anonymous. You are connecting on a different level. If you are shaking someone’s hand, be sure to make sure you have been holding a warm beverage in it before. Studies have shown that cold beverages lead to cold hands and a “cold” impression. If it’s possible, try and physically connect.

It’s easy to look around an pick out those folks you don’t think give off a positive impression but everything really does start with you. Work on giving off that positive vibe yourself. Be the light that shines out on everyone else.