Study shows your dog can read your emotions

There is a saying that dogs don’t bark at parked cars. It’s funny how a dog will chase what’s in motion and ignore what is standing still. In reality, just because something is moving doesn’t mean it deserves attention. In conflict, the issue you are facing may be the equivalent of a moving car. But you might want to consider whether the parked car of an emotion might also deserve some thought. After all, an emotion may actually be what’s driving your decisions.

University of Lincoln’s study of dogs

It turns out that your dog pays attention not just to moving cars, but to your emotions as well. As reported in ScienceDaily, a study by the University of Lincoln shows that dogs can recognize human emotions. If you are a dog person, you’ve probably always suspected this. If you are a cat person, you are probably asking how this can be. Well, dogs simultaneously saw images and heard voices of people experiencing certain emotions. The tricky part is that when the emotions of the two were the same, such as a happy picture and a happy voice, the dogs spent much more time looking at the picture. This showed that dogs pick up on our emotions. If dogs can do it, let’s try to do it too.

1) Emotions can signal where you need to pay attention

Emotions are generally categorized as positive, such as happy, or negative, such as sad. However, this positive-negative categorization can be misleading because emotions themselves are morally neutral. It’s how you express emotions and what you do with them that you need to watch. For example, if anger clouds your reason, then you may make poor decisions. On the other hand, Harriet Lerner explains in her book The Dance of Anger that anger can be used as a tool for change. Don’t ignore your emotion as a dog ignores a parked car.

2) Try to understand what is behind an emotion

In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey was on a subway when he observed a father and his out-of-control children. He felt anger at what he perceived as a father who was incompetent and derelict. Thank goodness that he didn’t act improperly on his feeling of anger because he later learned that the children’s mother had recently passed away. There was nothing wrong with Stephen Covey’s feeling of anger, but he allowed his anger to cause a snap judgment. He was like the dog chasing after a moving car, until he explored what was actually going on. Similarly, mediation and facilitation helps you explore the cause of a conflict in order to resolve it.

3) Get moving in the right direction

The word “emotion” comes from the Latin word emovere. Although it sounds like a spell out of Hogwarts, it means “to move or set into motion.” In fact, the word “motivation” also comes from emovere. At the very least, foster the emotion of happiness. In his book The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor describes what he calls the “Tetris Effect” that helps you spot opportunities from patterns of possibilities. Noticing your parked cars of opportunities is what makes mediation and facilitation so helpful.

Do you prefer cats or dogs?

While we are speaking of pets and emotions, I am curious. Are you a cat person or dog person? I tend to think of myself as a dog person because I get a kick out of playing pooch tug-of-war. But, I have to admit that our last cat had me wrapped around her little claw. Even though her meowing would wake me in the middle of the night, after she passed away, I missed her terribly. Okay, I’ll say it. The emotion I felt was “sad.”

How about you? Whether you are a dog or a cat person, what can you learn about emotions from your pet?


Image: “Dog” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Céline

Source: University of Lincoln. “A man’s best friend: Study shows dogs can recognize human emotions.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 January 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160112214507.htm>.

The Martian: Feeling stranded by conflict

I hope none of us are ever in such dire straits as Mark Watney, the character from the book The Martian by Andy Weir and played by Matt Damon in the movie. Yet, despite Mark’s predicament of being stranded on Mars and his immense loneliness and desperation, he never lost sight of the importance of being a problem solver. Hopefully you are not feeling as if you are stranded on Mars by a conflict, but here are some ideas to use mediation to put a conflict behind you.

1) Prepare for rescue by focusing on the future

Problem solving kept Mark alive on Mars. To be a problem solver, he did not let the past of being abandoned by his crew interfere with what he wanted to achieve for his future. Staying focused on the future is also a good idea with mediation. While the courtroom is the place to explore the past to determine who is to blame, mediation provides the opportunity to look into the future to determine what outcome will feel like a rescue from Mars and give you a future that you can live with.

2) Know your goal

One of the first things Mark had to do was set his sights on his desired outcome, which was to stay alive until the next scheduled Mars landing in about three years (1480 sols). His goal kept him focused on his needs, such as conserving his food, rather than being distracted by his wants of eating a full meal. With mediation, understanding your needs and wants will help you achieve your goal.

3) Think broadly about information

Mark did a thorough job of collecting data about his problems, but even with such diligence, he invariably would forget some important piece of information that would cause havoc to his plans (“Everything went great right up to the explosion,” Mark Watney). Don’t suppress your intuition about what data will help you make good decisions. During a pre-conference phone call, let your mediator know if you need more information to have a productive mediation.

4) Take care of yourself

I was impressed by Mark’s recognition that he had to take care of himself in order to survive. If he became exhausted, he knew that he would not be able to deal with the next life-threatening event. Similarly, pace yourself in mediation. Ask your mediator for a break and go for a short walk to get the creative juices flowing. Make sure that you take care of yourself physically and emotionally.

5) Laugh a little

Of course, the hallmark of Mark’s survival was his sense of humor. If your mediator brings humor into your mediation, use that time to relax and give your brain a rest before getting back to the serious work of resolving your dispute.

Working together

What else can we learn about mediation from The Martian? Think about the phrase, “Let’s work the problem, people,” spoken by Flight Director Gene Kranz played by Ed Harris in the movie Apollo 13.


Image: “Daybreak at Gale Crater” (CC BY 2.0) by NASA Goddard Photo and Video