We were walking Steve, our dog, down the beach on Sunday. Two large dogs and their humans approached, and the site of Steve had them dragging said humans toward us. I could tell that while they were trying to hold the dogs back, those hounds were way stronger and the people had little control of stopping them in their pursuit of sniffing Steve.
As the larger of the two got real close, the woman yelled, “They’re not aggressive! They just bark a lot!’
Except that large dog nipped at Steve’s face. Not a playful nip. More like I want to put your face in my jaws-type nip. I had Steve on a short leash. I quickly pulled him away and kept walking.
I’ve learned in these moments to stay silent, but the murmurs under my breath were anything but. Umm, he IS aggressive because he just attempted to bite my dog. Umm, the fact that you have to yell that out, as your dogs drag you across the beach would leave me to believe that you’ve had to sell this bill of bull to other people/dogs when your “non-aggressive” dogs lunged at them.
Just because you don’t want it to be true, you can’t just say it when the facts prove different.
How often do we hear these denials? How often do we say these denials?
That’s not what happened!
I didn’t say that!
That’s not what I did!
I’m not like that!
Oh, the stories we tell ourselves when the facts present the complete opposite.
Instead of acknowledging that perhaps her dogs are aggressive and not taking them for a walk on a crowded beach, it’s much better to hope for the best and shout out deniability.
Instead of being open to feedback about how our behaviors impacted someone, it’s much easier to deny it and say, “No that’s not true!”
If we deny it, then we don’t have to change. If we deny it, we don’t have to look in the mirror and be honest with ourselves that perhaps there’s some room to grow. If we deny it, then we can keep doing it and just telling people, no, that’s not me! That’s not true! That’s not it!
Not only were her dogs a nuisance and potential threat, her denial of something I saw with my own two eyes made her seem delusional. In denial. Untrustworthy.
I walked away because would a feedback sesh with her on the beach really make a difference? No. Chances are not.
When you respond defensively, in denial, and shut down hearing people’s perception of you, the chances of them walking away are high, too.
Why would I invest my time if they won’t hear it? Why would I share my perspective if they refuse to see it? Why would I work to help them learn and grow if they can’t admit to the truth?
“They bark a lot, and sometimes they are aggressive,” would have prompted a whole different response from me.
“I didn’t realize I did that. That’s not where I want to be. I could use some help,” will elicit a whole new response from your leader. One when they’ll stop, pause, and will take the time to have a conversation with you. One that might lead to learning, growth, and a new way of seeing things.
That response shows vulnerability, fuels trust, and plants the relationship in the land of real, not the made-up worlds we tend to live in.
Denial might seem like a plausible solution at the time, but more times than not, it’s what bites us in the butt.