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Ideas and Insights


To be a Cat or to be a Dog?

Ideas_and_Insights_700px_cats-and-dogs2A useful frame to help us understand people, and their behavior, is the analogy of people as household pets – namely cats or dogs.

 

When you call a dog it comes; when you call a cat it has an answering machine and might get back to you later. People can be like that also. Other names for  a cat style of  behavior is referred to as being credible (think of a pilot voice); for a dog – approachable  (like the flight attendant).

 

There are a range of patterns of behavior and characteristics that we associate with Cats and Dogs that we can sort, more or less, as follows:

 

Dogs

Cats

Come when called Will think about it, if called
People oriented – want to please Focus on what they want – issues
Value inter-dependence Attracted to competition
Tend to be service-focused Tend to be performance driven
Person Position
Approachable patterns Credible patterns
Present like a “flight attendant” Present like a “pilot in command”

 

In other words, “dog” behaviors could be characterized as approachable patterns of behavior and “cat” behaviors could be characterized as credible patterns of behavior. For short hand we could refer to these two styles as “approachable” and “credible”.

There are cautions when using this model:

  • It is a continuum and is not pigeonholing people (a behavioral spectrum, NOT personality types)
  • It’s all relative (more cat or dog-like than someone else)
  • Depends on the situation

Appearing to be one or the other is something that arises from both habit and the context in which we find ourselves. In other words, “cat” and “dog” are labels for context-dependent patterns of behavior. Our effectiveness goes up when we can choose intentionally to present as either according to what the situation requires.

 

In this article the focus is on when to increase your dog-like patterns of behavior or your cat-like behavior; that is,  when might it be useful for you to be perceived as being either more credible (Cat) or more approachable (Dog).

 

Size, length, and familiarity of group

 

When you are in charge of a group that is large, going to be together for only a short time and they don’t know each other well – be a cat, that is present as more like the pilot than the flight attendant. On the other hand, when the group is small, and will be together for a longer periods of time and they know each other well – then you will be more effective as a dog,  – that is, present as more approachable.

 

Level of group formation and functionality

 

Groups can be well formed or poorly formed. They range from being very functional through to dysfunctional. For example, some “gangs” are well formed as groups, but not very functional. If the group is unformed – be a cat, present as more credible – help the group to form and switch to more approachable patterns of behavior, i.e. like a dog. If on the other hand, the group is both well-formed and functional then be a dog, – the flight attendant. Whenever the group is dysfunctional be a cat.

 

Complicatedness of task

 

The more complicated the task facing a group (e.g the task has many variables and needs time to work on), then more credible patterns of behavior suits this situation – i.e. be a cat. If the task is more straightforward then a more approachable style suits, i.e. be more dog-like.

 

Level of the Organization

 

When interacting with the higher levels of an organization, you will be more influential and effective if you present using more credible patterns of behavior  – the pilot more than the flight attendant. At lower levels in organizations you will receive more permission and be more influential if you present as more approachable – the flight attendant (dog) more than the pilot (cat).

 

When making decisions

 

The decision-making process usually involves four phases: Gathering, Evaluating, Deciding, and Implementing (GEDI).

 

As a general principle, approachable styles tend to foster the flow of information than credible styles. So,  present as a dog during the Gathering phase to generate information. During the Evaluating and Deciding phase you will be more effective if you seem to others to be more definitive, i.e. more cat-like. The Implementing phase usually relies heavily on getting feedback on how the decision is operating in reality – that is, you are back to gathering information – so in this phase it helps to be more dog-like.

 

Role and responsibility

 

When we are interacting with people, we want to consider both what their expectations of us are, and what is required of us.

 

We may find ourselves in situations where there is a high expectation that we act in a decisive and definitive manner. Consensus seeking and participatory approaches are frowned upon and strong leadership is thought to be desirable. In other situations the reverse is true.

 

When strong decisive leadership is expected then presenting as credible (pilot) is called for. When consensus seeking is expected then presenting as more approachable is more appropriate (flight attendant).

 

In a similar vein, regardless of what is expected of you, there are situations where it is obvious that the context requires you to be responsible for directing an outcome, e.g. you might be the expert brought in to solve a problem. In this context credible patterns are required (cat). If you do not have that responsibility and it is appropriate for the group to determine the solution then your behavior should represent more a more approachable style (dog).

 

Stage of interaction

 

As an interaction occurs between you and another person or  group (e.g. leading a meeting) you will be more effective if you can move between dog (flight attendant) and cat (pilot) at different points in the process.

 

Before you meet the other person or conduct the meeting – clarify your outcome: what does success look like for you and for the other person/s? If you don’t do this you will tend to be perceived as lacking credibility (using more dog like patterns of behavior) especially when you negotiate with yourself in front of the other party/group.

 

In the greeting phase a more approachable pattern is called for (dog) but as you establish guidelines for the process in which you are about to engage then a more credible pattern (cat) may well be called for (other things being equal).

 

As the conversation or meeting moves more into an exploration phase a more approachable pattern is called for, but as the meeting or discussion comes to an end, and commitments are being made then a more credible pattern fits better. Finally, when you farewell the other person or group it is much better to do so with an approachable pattern.

 

Conclusion

 

I hope this little analogy of Cats and Dogs, helps you to sort for yourself – quickly and easily, when to use either of the two key behavior patterns  – Credible  or Approachable – to get the best effect to get your outcome.

 

Michael Grinder

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9 Responses to “To be a Cat or to be a Dog?”
  1. 03.20.2014

    Thank you, Michael Grinder, for this concise “review.”
    I enjoyed learning about cats and dogs a few years ago in
    one of your workshops; this was a tremendous reminder and
    recall.
    Thank you.

    • Michael G
      03.21.2014

      Dear Claire,

      Great to hear from you. Glad we could “top” off your learning glass again. Michael

  2. Shannon Linker
    03.20.2014

    Michael,
    I was aware of the Cat/Dog characteristics and have learned about credible/approachable patterns from training with Tim. I had not thought about the correlation between both, so this was very insightful to read. Thank you!

    Shannon Linker

    • Michael G
      03.21.2014

      Dear Sharron,

      I agree with you…
      It seems that the more a person has a whole range of behaviors and knows when to use them the more effective they are. Michael

  3. Phil Morgan
    03.20.2014

    I found this piece to be most interesting. It caused me to look back over my history as a manager, and helped me identify why some appointments didn’t work out very well. I have been consistently a “cat” type manager and for most of my managerial career led largish and diverse groups, for which it would seem I was suited. But with small units, I was not as successful. Had I had the opportunity to attend Michael’s workshops, I might have been a more rounded manager.

  4. 03.21.2014

    Hi Shannon

    Thanks for drawing the connections…. good to see our times with you were not wasted. So sorry to have missed you in Seattle two weeks ago!

    Tim

    • Michael G
      03.21.2014

      Phil,

      Good point:
      There seems to be 3 variables when it comes to working with groups: Size of the unit, how long they have worked with each other and how familiar they are with each other.
      Michael

  5. 03.21.2014

    Hi Phil
    Good to see you found it useful
    Cheers
    Tim

  6. Cherill W
    04.23.2014

    My daughter has been looking at MBTI and animal characteristics. I noted your caution about this model being a spectrum of behaviours rather than pigeonholing folks or describing personalities. The important thing, whether you model animal behaviours or channel a highly regarded leader or mentor, is to be able to choose the best way to respond to a situation rather than revert to habit or type.

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