Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Cats, Clients & Communication

This is another in the series of guest blogs which have been organised by Emily Cagle and Adam Vincenzi. Today’s post is written by Sue Windley, Marketing Director of the Pragmatic Performance Group, a business acceleration consultancy based in south-west England that works with small and medium sized businesses to help them increase their rate of growth profitably and sustainably. You can also visit Sue's blog Dangerous Marketing or follow her on Twitter as @DangerousMkting.
My guest post - about dogs in the office (what a surprise) - is over on Sue's blog.

I am a marketer and have been for many years.  I specialise in getting businesses to communicate properly with their target markets.  I am also newbie cat-owner. It's been a while since I was a beginner at something - and it's scary!
Last year I adopted 2 strays who had been rescued and brought back to health by the Cats Protection League who'd named them Matisse (self-assured and chilled out) and Mefistofelees (who acts like a little devil). Their names certainly seemed to match the cats' characters so I kept them. 
But after 6 months, the joys of coping with a devilish cat started to wear a bit thin. Mefistofelees likes attention - lots of it. If you ignore him, the volume goes up. If you still ignore him, the carpet gets wet (leave that to your imagination). But hey - I use psychology for my business and some of my clients are like herding cats, so same principles should apply to training my own cat. So I treated my cat like a naughty teenager and reacted accordingly.
But it didn't work - he just got louder and the carpet got wet more often 
Luckily I have a friend who is an animal trainer and behaviourist, so I asked her what I was doing wrong. She asked me an interesting question: Describe what the cat actually does, rather than what I expected which was to describe his behaviour. She knew if I was describing behaviour, I would naturally put my own perspective on it. But simply describing what I saw enabled her to understand what my cat was trying to communicate.
He wasn't being naughty at all. In fact, how can cats be naughty when that is a human description? He was being a nervous cat - unsure of his territory because of the other cat, so he sought reassurance from me, his surrogate mother. Only I kept ignoring him. The answer was simple - I changed my behaviour to respond to what he was actually communicating now that I had been given a lesson in cat talk. I now have a confident cat who is (nearly) as relaxed as his house mate. 
My misinterpretation of the context of my cat's attempt to communicate with me resulted in the exact opposite result I was seeking (more of the negative behaviour that I was trying to stop). Only when I took a step back and understood the context, was I able to understand correctly. How often do we misinterpret what other people are trying to say to us because we interpret the context based on our view of the world, rather than theirs?

It's a vital lesson to learn - see things from another person's perspective and suddenly communicating gets easier. Hopefully you too will find it a much more positive experience!


  1. Dear Sue,

    The sound of a name is very important, both to an animal and its owner. I'm not surprised Matisse is confident and chilled out.

    I'd suggest you change 'Mefistofelees' to a nicer, more friendly name like Mannie (short for Manet) or Colin, and most of your problems will sort themselves out.

    all the best,

  2. Thanks Kim - we actually call him Meffi as his full name is just too much of a mouthful! And to prove my point, he is sitting quietly at my feet whilst I type. Mind you, he still responds to his nickname of "LB" which is short for "Little Bugger"!