My wife and I have a Chihuahua named “Burrito” whom we adore. I walk Burrito nearly every night in our neighborhood and I’ve learned a lot about him. Burrito is not a friendly Chihuahua – if there is there such a thing as a friendly Chihuahua. After seven years with us, he’s got a cadre of only about fifteen “friends”, seven of which are my wife’s family who have stayed with us. When he meets a new person or when the mail carrier puts the mail through the slot, Burrito snarls and barks and goes ape. If he’s in the same room with a person with whom he is not friendly, he’ll continue to bark and snarl until the person turns to leave and then he will try to bite their Achilles’ tendon and disable them permanently. But when Burrito loves you, he adores you. You’re his best friend, he’ll look for you to ask him to do something and he’ll comply at once. He’d like nothing more than to get up on the chair next to you and bask in your glow.
Why can’t he make friends with everyone he meets? Why does it take so long to become comfortable with someone? Wouldn’t life be a lot easier for Burrito if he cut out the “go crazy” step and go right to love? I think because he’s afraid.
My hypothesis was proved one night when I was walking him in the neighborhood at about 11 pm. I was listening to my Ipod, not paying much attention as we walked. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, I saw a huge friendly golden retriever loping toward us. And before I could think, Burrito lunged at the far bigger dog and got a death grip on the fur and lose skin around the dog’s neck. The bigger dog started to shriek and swing his head from side to side, trying to shake Burrito loose but Burrito held tight, flying back and forth wildly, not about to let go. I yanked on Burrito’s leash and was finally able to pull him free. The golden had somehow gotten out of his yard and now was heading home at full speed and Burrito continue to bark at him, showing absolutely no fear. Why would a little dog like that be so stupid as to attack a big dog? Why would a seven pound Chihuahua not just turn and run? Because when you’re small and vulnerable as Burrito is, your only hope is full-tilt aggression. You take your shot before you’re another animal’s lunch.
Today, our human fears are less immediate but no less important to us at the moment. We’re in a competition for resources and for us at the moment we’re involved in it, it’s life or death. Although we’re not usually involved in life or death struggles any more, it may seem that way. Loss of face can lead to loss of a job can lead to loss of housing can mean living in your 1978 Honda down by the river. At least in our minds. We often act in aggressive (or passive aggressive) ways to others because in reality, we’re afraid.
You might work with people or have a boss that is always angry, always hostile. Everyone around him or her cowers in fear, afraid they may inadvertently do something to set them off.
I’ve found that usually aggression is based on misdirected or mis-felt fear that manifests as aggression. Often type-A people are simply trying to stop the sky from falling in, to gain some sense of control to what they experience as an out-of-control environment.
When dealing with people like this, it’s best to have some understanding of this fear/aggression continuum so that you may better use active listening skills to get beyond what may be a surface flaw to the person within.
And, on the other hand, your boss may very well just be a plain old dick.