Communicating Through Behavior

daniPerhaps you are familiar with the story of Dani the deer – or Indiana’s headline grabbing fawn.  The heartwarming story is that three years ago a couple found an injured and orphaned deer that had been bitten several times and was near death. This humane couple nursed her back to health; with plans to release her eventually back into the wild, which they did 30 months later.

Then the story takes a turn for the worse as because of their kind deed the couple has been charged with a misdemeanor of illegal possession of a whitetail deer.  They are facing 60 days in jail each and a $500 fine if convicted, even though they no longer have the deer at this point. The governor of the state is even involved and is backing the natural resources department in their charges against the couple.

While this seems like an easy case of “don’t you have anything better to do in your job, Governor?”  and a little more drama than is warranted, scratching beneath the surface it’s apparent that the real issue here is communicating through behavior. Although public sympathy is with the kind hearted couple who risked injury and potential disease dealing with a wild animal for 2 1/2 years, the state is bound and determined to send a message to all the other citizens that this particular kind hearted behavior is not to be rewarded or encouraged.

There are lots of examples of communicating through our behavior the message we are reluctance to openly state, for any of a number of reasons. It simply wouldn’t be politically correct to announce the real agenda behind certain behavior and so we smooth it over with something that is more palatable. ‘We would love to help you beat this rap, kind couple, but our hands are tied – it’s simply the law.’ When they know full well that if they let that couple off it would be setting a precedent for others to follow which could open a Pandora’s box that might be impossible to close.

COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY:  Sometimes we choose the indirect route on communication when the direct route is undesirable.  This is not about morals or ethics per se, it’s more about cowardice and ineptitude  – icky behavior is hard to defend; it’s just easier to hide behind the law.

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