The Truth About the Bark and the Bite

Have you ever heard someone claim that a person is “all bark but no bite”? Or what about the saying, “Their bark is worse than their bite”? What if I told you that these phrases can apply to how we view crises and conflict in our workplace?

This phrase compares a person to a dog; if a person is “all bark and no bite,” it means that a person comes across as if they have a lot of authority, confidence, and power, but they don’t follow through on what they say. 

Let’s talk for a moment about what that looks like in the workplace. Sometimes, we experience less than ideal moments with the people in the workplace, which can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction, confusion, and even anger.

How do we move past these situations to address the underlying issues? In other words, how do we begin to address the “bite” beneath the “bark”? 

Stop Reacting and Start Responding

I had a fascinating experience the other day. To be honest, having my office with a big front window sometimes makes me feel like a bit of a nosey neighbor!

A UPS delivery man was making his rounds, and I watched him approach the neighbor’s house. The neighbor had their dog tied on a chain in the front yard; he approached very cautiously, but the dog’s tail never stopped wagging, and everything went smoothly.

Then he came to stop at our house, and since he waved as he saw me at the window, I went out to greet him.

During our conversation, I mentioned to him that I noticed my neighbor’s dog in the yard, and how those kinds of houses must be a very stressful part of the job.

He laughed, but his response was fascinating to me: “Yes, I have been bitten a few times. But to be completely honest, a bad dog is a lot easier to handle than an angry human.”

I asked if he ever felt like changing jobs, or quitting when that stuff happened?

His face went serious as he stated:

“With a dog bite, no. With the human bark, YES!”

How many of us can relate to this comment? Often, the demands of a job that have the least amount of impact on us, whether it be physical, mental, or emotional. 

Instead, we often find ourselves frustrated, upset, and even burnt out by our experiences with other people in the workplace. Let’s be honest, is anyone truly ever shocked when a dog bites? Yet when a human barks, we can get hooked by their anger.

If we want to stop reacting and start responding in times of conflict and crises in the workplace, we have to stop backing down from the bark. One of the hardest truths for leaders to understand and model is this simple truth: 

The event is never the real crisis. 

When something goes wrong in the workplace with a coworker, it’s never the inciting incident itself that causes problems and creates turmoil for us. If we truly want to prioritize wellness and productivity in the workplace, we have to learn how to get to the root of the problems that arise in the workplace.  

Front Porch Therapy: Offering Support Through Crisis

I want to introduce a concept I have taught for years that I call Front Porch Therapy. If you have lived in a small community, you get this Front Porch Therapy already. If you have not, let me summarize it for you.

In a small community, it’s easy to get close to the people around you, to the point where you’ll find yourself calling people “grandma” or “uncle” even though they are of no relation to you. 

The advantage of these relationships is that we can go to these people’s houses, sit on their front porches, and tell them how life really is. If it stinks, then we can vent and talk about it. If life is good, we can brag and boast. No matter how we feel or what we say, the point of Front Porch Therapy is that we are listened to, never judged, and nothing gets held against us.

Your workplace is like a small community in a lot of ways; therefore, you can develop similar practices to address issues in our workplace! As a leader of your organization, you can become a Front Porch Therapist in your workplace by practicing judgment-free listening when your employees and peers have complaints. 

There are two practices that can help you become a better listener in your workplace: preparation and training


Being a Front Porch person is less about courses, titles, and other official knowledge; instead, it’s about your personal qualities and character. If you want to be a leader that your team can really trust, you must take the initiative to check in on the people in your care, and you have to be prepared for whatever they may have to say. 

The open-door approach has never worked to build trust as it requires the other person to reach out. Most of us do not ask for help– it is hard enough just to accept it!


Proper training allows you to effectively provide intervention and support for people who are dealing with crises in your workplace. This allows you to actually and effectively intervene in a person’s crisis, rather than simply using unhelpful clichés or offering a pat on the head and a “there, there.”

If you want to be the kind of leader that others can look to for comfort, you have to be the kind of person who genuinely cares. If you’re the type of leader who thinks more about how your position can benefit you than how your position can allow you to help others, I challenge you to rethink your idea of leadership

When someone in your workplace does begin to “bark”- in other words, when you start to see signs of crises or conflict- there is a simple approach for you to consider.

Sweat, Flush, Fill, and REST 

When your organization is experiencing crises or conflict, the physical, emotional, and mental health of those involved probably aren’t in great shape– and when our health is poor, it becomes harder to see situations for how they truly are. 

Experiencing crises can cause someone to neglect their health, but neglected health can exacerbate crises, which creates a vicious cycle. If you truly want to help the people around you through crises, this strategy helps them take a moment, slow down, and recenter themselves. 

  • SWEAT: Doing something physical is one of the few ways to get rid of the stress chemicals that are in the bloodstream. Physical activity such as  walking, jogging, or swimming can help boost a person’s mood and improve their health. 
  • FLUSH: Drinking healthy fluids, such water, juice, and caffeine-free tea, assist in removing toxins from the bloodstream. Avoid coffee, soda, or alcoholic beverages! Caffeine or alcohol are diuretics, and they reduce the water level in the body, increasing the percentage of the stress chemicals (cortisol) in the blood steam. Plus, alcohol is also a depressant.
  • FILL: Physically, consider nutrition. Eating excessive amounts of junk food can negatively impact how much energy you have, your mood, and a long list of other physical components. Additionally, consider how you fill your mind! Be aware of what you are “inputting” mentally. Instead of simply numbing your brain with social media or television, find activities that improve your mind, such as reading, puzzles, or journaling. 
  • REST: Rest encompasses more than just sleep! Think of REST as an acronym: Recreation, Envision, Sleep, and Thanks.
    • Recreation: Activities, hobbies, and interests that rejuvenate
    • Envision: Visualising and setting goals for tomorrow means a small list-plan for tomorrow
    • Sleep: Getting enough good-quality sleep 
    • Thanks: Intentionally noticing things you can be grateful for, no matter how small

Taking a moment in the midst of crises to think about your health can make a world of difference. Taking care of yourself will allow you to approach your problems with clarity and reason– you can respond to situations with the preparation and training that you planned on, instead of reacting based on instinct

A Summarizing Thought

Living in our current gossip-centric “cancel” culture, a barking person can cause more long-term damage and harm than a physically aggressive one: at least the majority of physical injuries will heal! Similarly, someone experiencing crises or conflict in your workplace can create long-lasting damage, if the crises or conflict aren’t addressed correctly.

I encourage you to be the person that anyone could approach without fear of our bark or our bite in times of crises. More importantly, be the type of person who listens when another feels the impact of conflict or crises, whether it is a bark or a bite someone is feeling the effects of. 

Additionally, when someone in your workplace barks, remember that there might be something bigger beneath the surface. Remember:

The event is never the real crisis!

Do you feel like you’re noticing a lot of anger or frustration in your organization? If you’re not sure how to move past the bark and address the bite, I can help. Let’s talk about how YOU, as a leader, can contribute to a workplace that practices healthy, honest, open communication. 

Enjoyed this article? Here are three more to help you:

The Importance of Communication

Values-Driven Leadership in a Status-Driven Culture

Extinguish Your Workplace Root Fires, Not Just Brush Fires

The Fortlog Advantage

Organizations across North America have been benefiting from FORTLOG’s Interpersonal Crisis Management, Coaching & Consulting services for over 30 years, counting on John to help shepherd them through their most challenging storms. Today, a growing number of workplaces benefit from John’s proven strategies, systems and speeches that focus on integrating core-value practices “not just policies and procedures''.

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