Are you a Dog or a Cat?
When I first met my husband, we often clashed about trivial things. They were mostly about how we communicated – he thought I was too direct and took no time with him, I thought he was to wordy and took too much time. Communication difficulties are not surprising, especially given gender stereotypes. In our case, however, we had a reverse situation, his complaints about me: too direct, rushed, and insensitive – things a woman would likely complain about in her boyfriend. My complaints about him: too wordy, takes too much time, and sensitive – things that a man would likely complain about in his girlfriend. Interestingly, working through our communication difficulties has taught me much about business interactions.
Initially, we would even have difficult phone conversations. As an example, if he called while I was at work, and if I had to suddenly end our call with “sorry, I have to go,” he would not like that. He said I was being short with him. He requested that I tell him upfront when he first called that I am expecting a call or that I am busy so that when I needed to go, it would not seem so abrupt. I discussed his request with my colleagues and friends who also have been the victim of my having to cut the calls short to pick up another call or go to a meeting – and they agreed with me that I was not being abrupt. It was early in the relationship with my husband, so we all chucked it to early relationship jitters. Over time, I learned to be more upfront about my schedule, and he learned to take things less personally.
Unfortunately, our adjustment to each other did take a while, and months into the relationship, our mutual complaints continued. I was secretly concerned that I was dating someone who was more “feminine” than I am. One day, during one of our “heart to heart” chats on the state of our relationship, we actually had a discussion that was quite illuminating:
He said, “Sometimes, talking to you is like talking to a cat – you listen until you want to, and then you stop, and I am left talking to myself.” This was in reaction to my trying to cut a conversation short – as I thought we were done.
“Dealing with you is like dealing with a dog,” I snapped back. “You don’t seem to ever get enough attention. Even when I think we are done, you still want more.”
He surprising responded, “I am like a dog. Why wouldn’t I want more attention? Otherwise, what is the point of being in a relationship? Even if you can’t give me attention at that moment, why can’t you understand that I want more? You don’t have to give me more all the time – but just be nice about it.”
We both realized then that we came from such different perspectives – and that they were irreconcilable. As a “cat”, I wanted to make all my correspondence and interaction as short and as quick as possible so I can go on to “my next thing” – whatever it may be. As a “dog”, interaction is my husband’s “thing”. So, when I wanted to move on to “my next thing”, he saw it as a rejection of our “together time”. And, I saw his reaction to my “rejection” as “clingy” or “needy”. The only way that we were going to survive this was to understand the differences in our general personality type and learn to accommodate them. I also realized that I am more results-oriented than he is – the bottom line: I am focused on moving on when I am done. He, on the other hand, is more concerned about our interaction, even when we are done, it’s important to him where and how we leave it.
By now, you are probably saying to yourself – this is all well and good, but what does this have to do with my business? A lot, actually. Over the years, I have observed that broadly speaking (with no scientific foundation or any viable research), most of us roughly fall within either the “cat” or “dog” category. That is to say, we are either “my way or the highway” (cat) or “what does everyone else want to do” (dog), or put another way, seek to be “independent” (cat) or “part of a pack” (dog). Of course, the degree of desire for independence or being part of a pack varies depending on the individual. However, I have no doubt that generally, one is a “cat” or a “dog”.
This observation helps me in dealing with my clients. If I have a client that is a “cat”, I give quick, concise, and focused advice. “Cat” clients generally want to hear the issues, the options, the solutions, and the recommendations, in an organized summary format. Once done, they may ask a few questions, but generally, not a lot of dialogue goes back and forth. Their reactions are more cerebral and less emotional. Also, “cats” tend to stick to specific and relevant details about the issue, and not so big on broadly “brainstorming” or “speculating”. Generally, “cats” are not interested in socializing the decision process – although in a group context, they may ask for each person’s assessment (as part of the fact gathering). If they have questions, they will ask – so rambling is not appreciated. Being “independent”, once they hear the advice and the input they need, “cats” generally engage in their own decision making process. The bottom line: A “cat” makes the final decision.
If my client is a “dog”, the decision making process is a more social. I give the same advice, but how I do it is different. My “dog” clients generally want to talk through things (including why I may have arrived at a particular conclusion). This means they have more questions and the process is more interactive – more like a conversation between friends. There may be more “brainstorming” and “what-if’s”, and “dog” clients are more concerned about the reactions of others which may arise from the decision. Also, “dog” clients tend to want more reassurance that they are doing the “right” thing, and as a consequence, we may be going over the same things a couple of times. “Dogs” seek consensus in the decision-making process. The bottom line, “dogs” want to feel like the decision was made by the “pack” even if it means that they have to “convince” or “persuade”.
In effectively dealing with clients, I have also found that knowing whether you are a “dog” or “cat” is important. Given that I am a “cat”, when I speak with clients or business associates who are “dogs”, I have to set aside more time, be more interactive, be a bit more detailed, and be more reassuring and patient. When I speak with a “cat” client or business associate, the interactions are more to the point and focused – they may even be considered “curt” by “dog” standards. In any event, monitoring my own default behavior and tendencies allows me to be in more alignment with the needs of my clients.
How do you determine whether a client is a “cat” or “dog”? You’ll need to read future posts for my observations on clues. Over the years, I’ve picked up clues along the way, and I’ve become pretty good at “guessing” which camp a person leans toward. However, I will give you something to watch out for in the meantime. I suspect that most of the US population falls within the “dog” camp – so look for the ones that “stand out” from the pack and you and your friends and colleagues might perceive as being “impersonal”, “proper”, “independent”, “focused”, and/or “direct” – they are likely to be “cats” or have “cat” tendencies.
Happy Meow Hunting!