Communication question from a cat whisperer who needs to speak strong



Reader Question:

I work at the animal shelter here as a supervisor over the cats.

One problem has been irking me at work. This is allowing people to be right in situations that really matter. For example we will have a cat that is exhibiting a behavior that I am very familiar with and I want to point out what it is, a workable solution to solving it, and the end result. I even have tons of literature and videos over it. Instead of explaining and highlighting what needs to be done, I allow myself to become satisfied with the other workers’ opinions whom have no experience with cat behavioral issues and they end up making it worse.

This is the one I am having the most trouble with. Right now we have a hissy-spitty cat, and I am in the process of training him not to bite. I do this by positive reinforcement which includes petting him a little more each day until he becomes comfortable with longer periods of petting and socialization. The other worker believes that smacking them on the head works when they bite, but all the research I have done backs up the theory that cats do not learn from physical punishment. How do I go about effectively tell them when they smack the cat not to do that and explain my method and technique of training the cat?

Meryl Responds

I’d love to learn from you! We watched the “My Cat From Hell” series where the coach transforms cats regularly by honoring their nature, and it can be amazing! Our cat is a sweetheart, but we did teach her to stay off the table by yelling at her. That was years ago, and some day we might have a new cat—I’d like kinder and gentler ways.

It seems to me there are two things that upset you—that you don’t stand up for your own wisdom, and you don’t stand up for the cats. Do you know why? When I defer to others who know less, (which still happens, although not so often), it can be self-doubt, not wanting to upset other people, not wanting to offend, not knowing what to say. It can be fear of retaliation. Something in my upbringing developed those qualities in me, and the only way I could grow out of it was just to hold my nose and dive in. Cut yourself some slack—there’s a reason why you balk. There is no need to be hard on yourself. But there is also reason to extend yourself a bit more each time.

It will help if you discover why you back off. But even if you know why, there will be risk in speaking your truth. It’s unfamiliar, and not a skill you’ve developed in this kind of scenario. When you practice a new skill, you fumble at first. That’s not fun. But it is how you grow.

When I fail to SpeakStrong, I practice what I might have said out loud. It really helps. I talk to the trees when I hike, and tell them what I wish I had said to the other person. It comes out raw at first, but then gets more from the heart. The trees don’t mind. 😉

You are the expert in cat care. You are also the supervisor. You have both positional and knowledge power. What do you, in your comfortable authority sound like? For starters, a man who cares about cats and cares about people.

Your earned authority comes across loud and clear in your email to me. So look at what you wrote to me, and use that to help you figure out what to say to the offenders. If it were me, I’d say something like, “The cat is scared and defending itself. We might be able to get her to stop by smacking her, but we won’t teach her love that way. My experience and my research have shown me that there really is a better way. I’m working with this cat and I see improvement, but if we worked together by teaching her to trust, she’ll lose her reason to bite.”

You can also say, “Yesterday, I wanted to speak up about cat care, but was afraid I’d offend you. I decided to take the risk today.”

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