Hang on every word I say!
August 12, 2010 11:38 AM   Subscribe

How do I project an air of expertise to my dog training clients? These are people who have already chosen to come to me for help, know my qualifications and clearly want to see me as an expert. Being more authoritative will not only make them more compliant to my suggestions but also make them feel like they're getting their money's worth.

I am soft-spoken and uncomfortable with self-aggrandizing behavior. I've seen it work on some people, but I find it distasteful and am myself far less likely to listen to someone who constantly self-promotes. I am experienced and knowledgeable, but sometimes that almost seems to backfire; my tendency to see grey areas and multiple, equally effective solutions to problems can make me seem unsure of myself. I'm also young-looking and female, which probably doesn't help.
posted by freshwater_pr0n to Human Relations (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'd rent or buy every DVD of the Dog Whisperer and learn from him how he does it.
posted by watercarrier at 11:39 AM on August 12, 2010

I am always at my most authoritative when I remember that of the people in the room, I know the most about whatever subject we're talking about. When you're in the room with your client and dogs, you truly ARE the expert. These people have no idea how to train their dog or they wouldn't be coming to you.

I don't think you need to be aggrandizing, you just need to be confident. I find quiet calmness more convincing than I do self aggrandizing.
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:49 AM on August 12, 2010

watercarrier, I don't think that applies. People dealing with the Dog Whisperer believe the dude knows his shit. Hell, he shows up at their house with a fucking film crew in tow.

My advice: maybe change the way you dress when you meet with clients? Speak with a more authoritative tone and be more direct.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 11:50 AM on August 12, 2010

Don't laugh... but when I was watching the second-to-last ep. of Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List her dog passed away, and she was looking for a new dog while trying to help her remaining dog deal with the loss. I was really impressed with the ease of the trainer she used. The thing that struck me was that the trainer brought her own two dogs with her, who not only showed off how well they had been trained but served as great models for the other dog.

"Well, if you're going to walk Pom Pom, who's going to walk them?"
"Oh, they walk each other."

And they did.

Now, I've never been a dog owner, but my partner lived with four dogs for quite a while, and he was impressed too. Mainly, it struck me that that would be quite a comforting thing for dogs -- to learn not only from a good trainer, but from animals like themselves.
posted by Madamina at 11:50 AM on August 12, 2010

Authority is one of those risky things where sometimes the harder you try to project it, the easier it is to come across as insecure. Relax, and repeat to yourself what you just wrote: "I am experienced and knowledgeable."

Quiet self-possession is far more convincing than self-aggrandizing behavior any day.
posted by DingoMutt at 11:58 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

my tendency to see grey areas and multiple, equally effective solutions to problems can make me seem unsure of myself

Consider presenting just one solution to your clients for a given problem and telling them at the outset, "There are several ways to approach this that would work, but I'm just going to talk about this one, so that I don't overwhelm you. I like this particular solution for your case because X, Y, and Z..." I also tend to offer people too many possible solutions, and I've learned that often people don't want choices; they want clear direction. Of course if your clients do want to hear about multiple solutions, fantastic, you're well-equipped to give them that information.

Also, just demonstrating your own control over dogs (yours, theirs, dogs that belong to other clients, whatever) is a great way to tacitly demonstrate your expertise without having to "self-promote."

And FWIW, I prefer getting services from people who are calmly confident and don't do a lot of self-aggrandizement; in fact I usually am more apt to trust them. So as long as you yourself feel confident in your expertise, I don't think you have to worry too much. It'll come across.

On the
posted by aka burlap at 11:59 AM on August 12, 2010

whoops, scratch the "on the" at the end--didn't preview!
posted by aka burlap at 12:00 PM on August 12, 2010

Best answer: It sounds like your mode of authority is calm, quiet competence, rather than assertive behavior. Which is good! I would rather have someone who is calm and unruffled dealing with my pet! (And, frankly, if you're speaking softly and the dogs are obeying you, that's even more impressive.)

I would be careful about not overwhelming people with too many options. If they ask, "How do we get Fido to stop yanking on her leash?" instead of a dissertation on every available option, say, "There are several different strategies we can try; since dogs have such different personalities, different strategies work with different dogs. What I want you to try FIRST is X. If after five days you're not noticing an improvement, I want you to try Y. We'll see how that goes, and I'll see you in two weeks so we can fine tune, or find out how she's reacting to X and Y and use that to work out a new strategy."

I would EXPECT my dog trainer to know many techniques and to be experienced in working with dogs with different personalities. But I would also expect my dog trainer to select from among those the top two or three things I'm going to try. That's the application of her expertise: choosing which of these techniques to use!

If your attitude is calm and reassuring and "we can solve this, we can fix this, we can help you," you will project plenty of authority. Just don't be nervous about it and the authority will project naturally from your attitude of calm competence.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:02 PM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Quiet self-possession is far more convincing than self-aggrandizing behavior any day.

Second that. Also? You have an advantage. Your skill is obvious in the way the dogs respond to you. Are you quiet, soft-spoken, and can't keep your client's German Shepard from putting its paws on your shoulders? Not good. But it sounds like you're good at what you do.

And people respond to results.

Here's why I liked my dog trainer:

He wasn't a loudmouth/know-it-all.

The dogs usually responded to him instantly.

When he didn't get what he wanted, it seemed to be all in a days' work, and he didn't make a big deal about it. He just tried again.
posted by Buffaload at 12:04 PM on August 12, 2010

This definitely strikes me as a "fake it till you make it" situation. Ditto on watching the Dog Whisperer for inspiration--not for training techniques, but as a pretty widely-shared image of a successful dog trainer. You have your own skills and personality to bring to a client, but approach the relationship like an actor playing a dog trainer in a movie. How would that character deliver this "line"? How would she comport herself?

You have the skills, you just have to find the persona. Fake it till you make it.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:05 PM on August 12, 2010

Response by poster: I should have mentioned this in the original question: I'm not asking this question because I feel like people don't listen to me or respect me already - they do. I'm asking because authoritativeness is something my clients respond well to, and I want to build on it.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 12:09 PM on August 12, 2010

If you want specific things that have convinced others of a dog trainer's authority, I can say that one big thing that led me to really respect the trainer I'd chosen was the fact that her own dogs, whom she always had with her at the facilities, were very happy and well-behaved individuals who obviously thought the world of her. This spoke boatloads to me - if I'm going to trust someone to help me train and bond with my dog, I want to see that her dogs are happy, and that she interacts with them in ways I would want to emulate.

On a more general level, I'd also agree with all the folks saying that giving multiple options right from the get-go can be overwhelming. I do that, too, and often end up feeling rather "information paralyzed" (it always reminds me of this xkcd comic). Trust your knowledge and remember that there's rarely One Right Solution to rule them all, in any situation - rather, there are a set of solutions that are likely to be good, and as the expert you are in a good position to identify those solutions and pick one for your client to try first.
posted by DingoMutt at 12:21 PM on August 12, 2010

Dress well. The clothes make the man, or so they say. Professional attire or a sharp uniform lends an air of authority to a person, and tends to increase respect from others.

Avoid weasel words. Don't say "maybe," "I think," "let's try," etc. Avoid filled pauses like "hmmm," "um," and "you know" and replace them with nothing but confident silence. Likewise, don't stretch out syllables like "IIIIIIIIIII'm going to do X" -- they suggest you are unsure. If you have a stutter, you may want to pursue ways to diminish it.

Look people in the eye and greet them with a firm handshake. Don't put your hands in your pockets.

Check your posture. Don't slouch, don't hang your head. Don't look at the floor.

People are looking for answers, and you can present yourself as the person who has them, even without being arrogant. Say "how can I help you today?" and "is there anything else I can help with?" Emphasize the word help because that's exactly what your customers are looking for.

Keep a clipboard around your office, even if you don't need one. Find a way to use it. Don't ask me why, ask Stanley Milgram.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 12:31 PM on August 12, 2010

I am twice the age of all the female dog trainers/groomers that have an office next to the dog park. My dog got in a fight. I hit the attacking dog with a stick I found (kind of stupid!). When I escaped the park the ladies came over to see if everything was alright and all they did was shrug their shoulders. They should have asked me "has your dog gotten into a fight before?" because I would have said no and asked them what was I supposed to do. I think they assumed that since I am older I knew how to handle a dog fight but I don't. I suppose that being confident and saying "you should have..." to an older person might be taken as condescending by the older person. But asking if the dog has ever being in a fight opens up a discussion.

I wanted these ladies to take charge of the situation but they didn't so I am just not going to that dog park any more. I still go to them as groomers and will take classes from them but the dog park is an important part of their "marketing" and I just wanted to give you the big picture from my perspective.
posted by cda at 1:02 PM on August 12, 2010

Best answer: I just thought of something else that was suggested to me once (in the context of leading meetings, but it can apply here, too): be sure that your advice and ideas come across as just that: your advice and ideas. Avoid phrasing that makes it sound like you're always asking your client what they think, or putting your ideas into their mouths. As someone who is eager to not be self-aggrandizing I have a tendency to do this, and maybe you do, too. For example:

- "Do you think we should wrap up this meeting and follow up via email?"
- "What if we tried clicking and rewarding Sparky as soon as his butt hits the ground?"

- "A lot of these questions could be answered offline; let's wrap up for now and follow up via email."
- "Sparky doesn't know what you want when you say "sit." Make sure that you click and reward him as soon as his butt hits the ground."

Maybe that seems obvious, but until someone pointed out to me that I do this I hadn't realized it - it can be kind of insidiously ingrained, especially if you're concerned about being super-polite or unimposing. Obviously there's a line here - of course asking questions is good, of course you don't want to go overboard and come across as pushy - but paying attention to how you're phrasing things can really help you identify tendencies that make you sound less confident than you really are.
posted by DingoMutt at 1:14 PM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Our dog trainer, it turns out, conveyed an aura of experience that she didn't have. It all worked out well, though; we loved her and our dog passed her exams. When learning a skill, our trainer presented just one way of training it. The approach she taught was the easiest or most successful. Occasionally, we'd encounter resistance to Training Method #1 and she would suggest Method #2 to produce the desired result. She never appeared to be at a loss for techniques and approached their selection as, "This one usually works. We'll try it, and take it from there."

As we progressed through three classes with our trainer and got to know her better, we learned that she was fairly novice to training dogs but had herself been trained by an accomplished trainer. We didn't feel deceived because she was able to train our dog (and us, of course) and answer all our questions. Despite being young, she conveyed a confidence by demonstrating the depth of her knowledge, but only when it was needed.
posted by workerant at 3:11 PM on August 12, 2010

I'm trying to figure this out for myself, too. One thing that helped was learning how to monitor the situation. There is a way that I feel inside when I'm speaking and acting confidently. My weight shifts down my back into my seat, my posture shifts forward, and my brain-energy shifts into my mid-sternum. It may be different for you. But once you start to pay attention to yourself, and how grounded and confident you feel, (a) you will learn what words and phrases take you put of that feeling, and (b) when that happens, you can get yourself back into that grounded place by remembering how it feels to be there.
posted by salvia at 5:08 PM on August 12, 2010

Also: use people 's names.
posted by salvia at 5:09 PM on August 12, 2010

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