Next door to me, two very large dogs – with questionable origin – spend their days traveling the perimeter of the two-plus acres of their owner’s property, making it clear to passer-bys the borders of their domain. They strut, head high, chest out. Alert and agile, they often dart toward the street when I’m out walking in the morning, stopping before the electric fence to stare at me, daring me to come into their yard. This is when I usually cross the street and risk my safety walking with traffic versus against.
If I didn’t know their owner, I would imagine him to be a man of equal intensity and superior in size and strength. But instead, their owner is a she, a relatively small and somewhat elderly “she.” And yet, she commands attention and obedience from her dogs. When the dogs tear through the yard in hot pursuit of a squirrel, barking and running, she whistles. Without hesitation, they turn and run back toward her, stopping to sit at her feet.
They then wait for the next command. With a subtle cue and quiet confidence, she effectively communicates her status to the dogs. She is the alpha, and they submit.
When asked by a client recently how to regain control of a meeting that had gotten heated, I thought of my neighbor. The client’s company was in the midst of a major reorganization and the change was triggering anxiety and fear in the employees. They were reacting emotionally and their weekly meetings were now dominated with concern over the future, exchanged in emotional outbursts and shouting.
I explained to the client, Joe, the quiet confidence and authority of my neighbor and suggested he approach his unruly meetings with the same calm and self-assurance. In the next meeting, Joe maintained his composure and responded to the shouts and cries of his employees with a calm voice and a clear, concise request to refocus the meeting.
In a recent Harvard Business Review blog post, How to Lead Without Saying a Word, the author, Robert Sutton says “nothing radiates power like controlled emotions when everyone else is shouting at each other.” He recommends being conscious that people are not only listening to what you say, but how you say it. As a leader, you have the power to influence people with more than just with your words.
THE EXPERIMENT: Next time you’re confronted with a tense situation where an employee’s emotional response is engaged, try staying composed and use subtle cues like a calm tone and relaxed facial expression to communicate your point.
THE CONVERSATION: Share the results of your experiment in the comments below or contact the author directly at
Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger for Smart Business. She has forged a career, enterprise and an applied discipline on the practice of teaching leaders to be masters of change. She is the Founder and CEO of Bright Side, Inc., a transformational change management consultancy with an emphasis on the behavior-side of change. For more than two decades, Donna Rae Smith and Bright Side, Inc have been recognized as innovators in organizational and leadership development and the key partner to over 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, please visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae at
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