The Old Sheepdog Story and Thinking on the Spot

imagesAn old sheepdog starts chasing rabbits and before long, discovers that he’s lost. Wandering about, he notices a panther heading rapidly in his direction with the intention of having lunch.The old sheepdog thinks, “Oh, oh! I’m in deep s… now!”

Noticing some bones on the ground close by, he immediately settles down to chew on the bones with his back to the approaching cat. Just as the panther is about to leap, the old sheepdog exclaims loudly: “Boy, that was one delicious panther! I wonder, if there are any more around here?” Hearing this, the young panther halts his attack in mid-strike, a look of terror comes over him and he slinks away into the trees. Phew!,” says the panther, “That was close! That old sheepdog nearly had me!”

Meanwhile, a squirrel who had been watching the whole scene from a nearby tree, figures he can put this knowledge to good use and trade it for protection from the panther. So, off he goes. The squirrel soon catches up with the panther, spills the beans and strikes a deal for himself with the panther. The young panther is furious at being made a fool of and says, “Here, squirrel, hop on my back and see what’s going to happen to that conniving canine!”

Now, the old sheepdog sees the panther coming with the squirrel on his back and thinks, “What am I going to do now?,” but instead of running, the dog sits down with his back to his attackers, pretending he hasn’t seen them yet, and just when they get close enough to hear, the old sheepdog says… “Where’s that squirrel? I sent him off an hour ago to bring me another panther!”

Moral of this story – Don’t mess with the old dogs! or brilliance only come with age and experience! …. or does it?

Nah of course not, there are techniques that can help you to relax when under pressure and to think on the spot. These include:

Breathing – this may sound obvious, but deepening and lengthening your breath stimulates a relaxation response which creates a feeling of calm.

Listen and Pause – whether that’s to your own instinct of needing to know what to do or say next as the old sheepdog did, or whether its critical to the success of your answer in situations when perhaps you’re being interviewed, or you’re facilitating a Q and A or you’re delivering bad news e.g. a company restructure which is going to have a significant impact on the lives and careers of the individuals present.

Really listening allows you to be completely present in the moment and is critical to the success of your action or answer. Then pause before you respond – as long as you don’t have a look of panic on your face, you’ll look thoughtful, careful and respectful. Pause even if you know the action to be taken or the answer to be communicated, especially if you feel under attack. Carrying out an action or blurting out a response without thinking it through will make you appear insecure and anxious. A thoughtful pause reminds you to slow down and collect yourself and your thoughts.

Organise – When having to think on the spot or having to respond to an impromptu question, the idea is to structure your response for clarity, brevity and impact. By learning a few impromptu response structures, your actions and answers will always be organised and confident. Here are three structures for you to try out:

Impromptu Response Structures:

PREP: Position, reason, example, position, in this model first state the position of the topic, and then you state your reason for taking that position. Next you provide an example or story that supports your reason. Finally, you summarise by restating your position.

PEP: Point, example, point, in this one you start by making a point or stating a key idea or objective. Then you give an example or story that proves your point. Then you wrap up by restating the main idea, or your main point. When you’re short on time, this is the way to go.

Divide and Conquer: This requires you to think quickly of a way to divide up your response, choosing between past, present and future problem solving solutions: Past: solutions that have worked before, Present: being completely in the moment to be able to react in time with a solution that will work in the here and now – as the old sheepdog did! Future: gathering intelligence to anticipate what the future holds supporting you in being forearmed with informed solutions.

Then practice these techniques, because as we all know practice makes perfect. You can do this by applying these techniques to everyday situations both in work and your life outside of work – maybe you want your child to eat more vegetables – begin by telling them this (stating your position) your reason is of course because you want them to grow up to be big and strong, then you tell them the story of the big green giant who ….. (you know where I’m going with this) and then you restate your position.

Practising the techniques when the situation or questions are easy, and you’re not under pressure, means you can learn the structures quickly. Then when you are put on the spot, you can easily relax, listen, organise and respond. Whether you’re attending a meeting, interviewing for a job, presenting a proposal, selling an idea, handling a question and answer session, or dealing with a panther! being able to respond clearly and concisely at a moment’s notice is a critical professional skill.

Evolving Careers Players can help you develop your skills to enable you to be prepared for all of these situations. We deliver 121 career coaching, group learning and development, and outplacement services. We devise community forum theatre, corporate drama workshops and role-play scenarios. http://www.evolvingcareerslayers.com Get in touch to discuss your needs: carmel@evolvingcareersplayers.com

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