Do you own a dog, cat, bird or lizard? Did you know that research shows that their presence can influence not just you, but other people's perceptions of you?
As a business speaker and magician, I am fascinated by the way our perceptions are shaped in our personal and professional lives. I'm also a pet owner.
So when I came across this article, my eyes jumped from the mention of “perception” in one paragraph to “cats” in the next.
Turns out that when we see a person with an animal, particularly a furry one, we automatically feel a level of trust.
“The magic is actually in making the person with the animal much more approachable,” according to researcher John Bradshaw, author of “The Animals Among Us: How Pets Make Us Human.”
And this affinity toward trusting people with happy animals may even be a part of our DNA. Researchers in the recent field of “anthrozoology” say that tens of thousands of years ago, our ancestors who were perceived to be good with animals might have been favored when it came time for matchmaking and procreation.
When I think of my own behavior, I can’t doubt that this is true. When riding the elevator in my building, I’m much more likely to strike up a conversation with a neighbor riding down to walk his dog. Even on the street, when running into someone I don't know who is walking their friendly pup, stranger danger nearly vanishes.
Many of us are a little hesitant to talk to strangers—so conversely, think about how many strangers are hesitant to approach you. And think about how this can impact you professionally. What networking isn’t happening in your life, but could be?
If you own a dog or cat, how can you use these research findings to shape and control the way you're perceived?
This can be a tricky nut to crack, since most employers don’t allow employees to bring their pets to work. (Though this might be changing.)
If you're a part of that majority, perhaps you can achieve a similar effect with clients by displaying a photo of Fido on your desk.
Or suggest for your company’s HR department to arrange for a “yappy hour” to build trust and congeniality amongst colleagues.
When you’re sitting in a meeting, tap your phone to check the time—and reveal little Cleopatra on your lock screen. Your colleague will notice you holding that cute animal, and not only feel more open towards you, but might also later strike up another conversation topic about your mutual obsession for Egyptian shaved cats.
If looking at your phone is considered rude, consider simply telling a story to your next sales prospect about what you had to do to take care of your pet.
"I've got fur all over my clothes because we had to take Charlie to the vet yesterday."
Your colleagues and clients just might reframe their perceptions of you to see you as a friendlier and more trustworthy person.
The biggest takeaway from this study is not just that pets can help you to be perceived as more friendly. It's that we are constantly influenced by multiple factors that work together to shape the thoughts and feelings we have of others.
Rather than letting those perceptions be formed willy-nilly, take control. Plant clues and cues in your surroundings. Give some thought to your desktop wallpaper, your bookshelf space, your car license plate, or your cubicle decorations.
You have the power to purposefully shape the way you are professionally perceived.
So go on... Leash up your lovely pet—say cheese—and unleash your inner pet lover.