We often think that we need to announce our verbal opposition loudly and heatedly during conflict, to defend our territory and stop others crossing the line.
The problem with this ‘barking’ is that other people quickly learn to become immune to our ‘noise’ and it fails to achieve our desired results.
This occurs surprisingly quickly, and it can occur in a wide range of situations – from dog-owners, to relationships, to parents.
This means that we can find ourselves in the ludicrous position of constantly yelling (which is exhausting and repetitive), without any behaviour change at all in the dog, the partner or the children!
Another problem with the ‘barking’ approach is that we genuinely believe we are doing something to change the situation for the better. After all, we are passionately relaying an unmistakeable message that is very loud.
However the essential problem, is that we are relaying the WRONG message.
By remaining engaged in the dramatic performance, we have conveyed over and over through our ‘barking’ that we are willing to tolerate additional bad behaviour (often for years) since we take no real action to eliminate it.
That is, we have failed to ‘bite’.
In other words, we neglected to make clear and put in place the crucially important ‘negative’ consequence – the very thing that will almost inevitably change the problematic behaviour.
For example, we failed to consistently take away the dog’s food when it first became a ‘fussy’ eater, or we failed to immediately put the dog outside when it first started ‘problem’ barking.
We failed to get absolutely serious with our partner and give them a clear early warning to either ‘calm down’ or ‘leave’ or ‘I’ll leave’ message. Instead we ‘barked’ endlessly but still tolerated the escalation, thereby teaching our partner the incorrect lesson.
We failed to calmly, consistently and rationally give ‘time out’ or take away a mobile phone or cancel a play-date with a friend when our children first told us to ‘shut up’ or otherwise behaved badly.
There is however an important distinction that needs to be made. I am not for a moment suggesting we stop arguing. On the contrary, argument is wonderfully efficient at resolving conflict and should rarely be avoided.
However, the argument process ought to involve zero ‘barking’. Indeed, every argument and path towards resolution is best handled with precision and self-discipline.
‘Performance’ is nearly always a time-wasting distraction. Brawling, screaming, hysterics or dramatics are ONLY useful if we are actually under personal physical attack (and not even always then).
On the other hand, most situations require calm, logical arguments and clear, consistent negative consequences for (even slightly) unacceptable behaviour.
Training ourselves to bite with precision and never bark will nearly always change problematic behaviour quickly and effectively.