My Recent Experience
Walking home the other day, I passed two dogs facing each other – along with their respective humans, of course. One was more forward and excited, and the other was not so sure. As I watched, the one more interested in playing dropped down to the sidewalk and rolled over, exposing a cuddly and vulnerable belly as if to say, “No threat here…!”
A dance then began: a bit of interest and a step forward by the one whose curiosity was slowly building – a too-soon jump up from the one wanting to play – an instant retreat from the one who now lost his nerve.
This was not the first time I’d observed this dance. Long ago, I had a dog named Phaedra, a beautiful Keeshond who also liked to approach prospective play partners this way. One day, she met a potential playmate a fraction of her size when we visited a dear friend with a cat named Toi.
Phaedra immediately crouched down on all fours and raised a paw in greeting. She slowly moved forward an inch or two and rolled over, making herself very open to a lightning-fast paw strike that just missed her. Still, she persisted, continuing this entreaty with the highest of hopes.
Can dogs smile? It sure seemed like Phaedra and the playful pup recently observed were doing exactly that!
Reflecting on Safety & Trust
I will not recommend that humans assume a submissive position to gain trust when greeting new people, but I do believe there is something to be learned from that reaction.
When we open ourselves to speak with another, we put ourselves in a vulnerable position. No teeth or sharp claws are heading for us, but we are not necessarily sure how our words will be received.
So, how can we create a safe space and encourage a bit of trust?
Safety and trust go hand-in-hand. When we feel safe, we are willing to open to trust. When we trust, we feel safe. We don’t have to know someone well to feel safe with them and trust them. It is very possible to experience this with total strangers.
I like to think about this kind of trustworthiness – a “first impression” inherent quality – as an opening needed to enable deeper trust. Even so, that opening is enough to allow people we recently met to speak openly and honestly with us. As we continue to demonstrate that trustworthiness over time, it deepens and grows.
Much like two of the dogs above, people will not engage if they do not feel safe. That needs to be respected.
I have a theory that we know if people are being authentic when they speak with us. When we hear authenticity, we feel comfortable opening up to respond. A friendly tone of voice is important – preferably with a smile. Eye contact is helpful, as is body language and positioning that is respectful of the boundaries of others.
When we take care to consider how our message will be received, we step into the mindset of intentional honoring which builds both safety and trust. How delicious is that?!
Image by Master1305 on Frepik