Not all howls are alike. Nor should they be. The “right” makes all the difference
© Russ McNeil 2021 AhaUniversity.com
The cool air is invigorating; the crackling fire mesmerizing; the moon, a golden ball glimmering in the nighttime sky. And there you sit, in your folding canvass chair, situated on the northern edge of Smoky Mountains National Park. For the next seven days, Elkmont Campground will serve as your sanctuary, your refuge from the hustle-and-bustle of everyday life. Ahhhh. This is the life you think of yourself. Going to bed when I’m tired and getting up when I’m not. If only every day could be like this. Such is the nature of your musings in the stillness of the night.
You no sooner have the thought when the surrounding silence is suddenly shattered. The tranquility of the starry night is pierced by a not-so-harmonious, but all-too-familiar, canine cacophony. Those riotous coyotes are at it again. For the third night in a row, they bless you with their midnight serenade. No wonder some observers refer to them as “song dogs.” 1 Just how many of ‘em are out there? you ask yourself. It sounds like dozens. 2
And that, it turns out, is precisely the point.
The coyote incident described above could take place just about anywhere in North America. Coyotes range from Alaska through Canada; from coast-to-coast in the U.S.; and down through Mexico all the way into the northern parts of Central America. 3 And no matter where they are—no matter what forest, rocky cliff, or city park 4 they make home—their reputation follows them. The ubiquitous canines are known for several impressive traits and abilities; too many to address in a single article. This lesson explores only one aspect of coyotes: their song, I mean howl.
Communication is a big deal to coyotes. When they’re within sight of each other, coyotes rely heavily on non-vocal communication—eye contact, facial expressions, and body language. 5 When not within sight of each other, coyotes communicate by vocalizing. And they have quite a repertoire of vocals from which to choose.
Coyotes employ not only their vocal cords but also their mouths, tongues, and the sides of their lips to produce complex vocalizations. 5 These result in a wide range of sounds described as growls, snarls, barks, hisses, howls, laughs, screams, gargles, yipes, yips, and yodels. 2, 4, 5 To add even more variation, coydogs (as they’re known in New England) introduce individualized tones, pitches, inflections, and modulations, “sometimes with warbles, lilts, crescendos, and trills.” 4, 5 Bottomline: no two coyotes howl precisely the same. Each one has its own unique, complex vocal signature. 5
We typically associate coyote howling with after-dark hours. Hearing a pack cut loose in the middle of the night can be a hair-raising experience. The fact is however coyotes are diurnal, meaning they can be active day or night. 5 You’re just as likely to hear a pack of coyotes cut loose midday as you are in the middle of the night.
So why do they do it? What’s really behind all that mystical coyote noise? While the production of their sound is complex, the motive behind it is straightforward enough. Simply put, the pack is announcing its territory, creating a sort of “auditory fence,” if you will. 6 Now, this is where things get interesting.
When people hear a coyote pack howling, they tend to assume they’re hearing a large group of the canine critters raising their voices in unison. 1 But this isn’t the case at all. It is, in fact, an auditory illusion. 1 It’s a trick.
And the coyotes do it on purpose.
They do it to fool other packs who live in surrounding territories. The goal of the howling pack is to sound more numerous than they are. Larger packs are better able to ward off intruders. By creating the illusion of a larger pack, coyotes can more effectively defend their territory.
So, how do they do it? How does a small pack of song-dogs make itself sound so populous? It all comes down to the animal’s ability to create such a wide range of vocal sounds. An alpha pair (male and female) work in concert. 1 The male howls while the female joins in with yips, barks, and short howls. 1 This wide range of vocals produces a complex mix of sounds that gets distorted as it passes through the environment. 1 In the end, this “group yip-howl” causes a pair of coyotes to sound more like seven or eight. 1 Sometimes the pair’s current-year pups join in making the effect even more pronounced. 1
The auditory trick is so effective, it works not only on other coyotes but also on people. Researchers determined that when a person hears one or two coyotes yip-howling, they often perceive the number of tricksters to be as much as five. 2 When they hear four coyotes yip-howling, they perceive the critter count to be as high as twelve. 2
The auditory illusion in which a few coyotes produce the sound of many, has a name. Scientists refer to it as the Beau Geste Effect. 1,6 The term beau geste (boe zjest’) is from a novel of the same name. In the novel, soldiers defending a fort, prop up their dead in order to artificially inflate the size of their force. 8 Beau geste is a French phrase. It translates to English as “beautiful gesture.” 4
Amidst all the mystical howls, auditory illusions, and outright trickery, is a lesson for networkers. It’s a powerful lesson and the coyote illustrates it beautifully.
Robert Butwin calls it the “life-blood of our business.” Margie Aliprandi says, “Everything else is just scaffolding.” Michael Clouse refers to it as “The name of the game!” It’s no secret—the single most important skill in Network-Marketing is the skill of prospecting. Prospecting is where it all starts. Without prospecting, you’re pretty much sunk before you ever leave port.
Importance of words
The key to effective prospecting is knowing how to relate to a wide range of different people. Master prospectors know this, and they use several rapport-building tools to make rapid connections. And of all the tools at your disposal, the most impactful of all is your choice of words.
Words are powerful. Words evoke emotion. The right words, fitly spoken, encourage, uplift, and convey hope. As ambassadors of the networking profession, it is our mission to do these same things—to encourage others, to lift them up, and to convey hope. Thus, when we use the right words, we accomplish both; we evoke positive emotions in others, and we fulfill our business mission. The question then is What are the “right” words?
Enter the coyote.
More specifically, enter the coyote’s yip-howl. Coyotes don’t use words per se, but they certainly know how to vocalize in a way to get their point across. Even a lone coyote can sound like multiple howlers. Effective prospectors do the same exact thing. Effective prospectors understand the power of tailoring their offer to the other person—without all the howling.
When it comes to the networking profession, if you wanna be a howling success, you’re gonna have to do more than just howl.
This lesson is about tailoring your message to potential business partners, fellow opportunity seekers, if you will. It’s a skill we’ll refer to as “leveling.” Leveling is a two-step process: (1) assess the “level” of your prospect, and (2) adjust your words to match their level. This isn’t hard or complicated. All it takes is a little bit of practice.
First, let’s be clear about what I mean by a person’s “level.” We’re not judging the value of anyone. We all have great value in the eyes of our Creator, and we have it in equal measure. However, in other ways, we differ greatly. These other ways are what make us unique as individuals.
With these truths in mind, consider an imaginary scale containing three levels. Let’s number them 3 down to 1, where each number represents a “people level.” Level 3 people have more life experiences, more self-confidence, they’re more seasoned, and/or have attained more success in their profession. Level 1 people have less of these things, in some cases significantly less. Level two people are somewhere in between. Again, neither Level 2 nor Level 1 people are less worthy than Level 3. They simply aren’t as far along with respect to life experiences, confidence, and/or professional success.
Assessing a person’s level is simple. Other critter lessons share specific advice regarding how to assess levels, but that isn’t the focus of the lesson at hand. For time being, just go with your instinct. It’ll serve you well enough for now. Once you’ve made your assessment of a person’s level, you’re ready to tailor your message.
Tailoring your offer
When you tailor your message to the other person, you’re communicating on their . . . well . . . on their level. You can sponsor a ton of folks without leveling, so it isn’t mandatory. However, when you do employ leveling, you can sponsor even more.
I’m a huge proponent of asking questions rather than making declarations. Lots of reasons why (which are addressed in other lessons). For now, let’s just say questions are the way to go. Any time I make an offer, I always frame it in the form of a question. I refer to offer-questions as “Magic Questions.” Let’s take a look at a handful of specific Magic Questions and how they apply to the process of leveling.
Starting with higher levels and working down . . .
Do you keep your options open?
Do you keep your income options open?
Are you at a point to explore outside opportunities as long as they don’t get in the way of other commitments?
Are you at a point in life to explore outside opportunities, I mean, as long as they don’t take too much time?
Do you ever look at other ways to add income to the monthly budget?
Do you ever look at other ways to make money?
Do you ever look at different kinds of side-hustles?
Don’t feel like you have to memorize a hundred different questions, or even these seven. That’s not the point. The point is when you understand your audience, you can optimize your offer by tweaking your verbiage. I’ve used all these Magic Questions and others. The first one (a) works well with C-level executives. The last one (g) that gets great results will be Millennials.
My favorite Magic Question—the one I reach for more than any other—is (d). It’s no coincidence (d) is in the middle of the list. It’s also a midpoint on the scale! It’s just sophisticated enough to strike a chord with higher-level folks, and just unsophisticated enough to relate to peeps on the opposite end of the scale. Furthermore, the questions above are jam-packed with positive psychology. (Regretfully, there’s only so much we can cover in a single lesson, so we’ll table the psychology for now.)
Leveling can make a lot of sense in certain situations, but don’t get bent around the axle trying to figure it out on the spot with a live prospect. My recommendation is to start by practicing with (d). After you get most comfortable with it, start experimenting with one of the others. Repeat this process as you gradually expand your repertoire of howls, I mean, Magic Questions.
Power tip: make sure your offer questions use the plural form (opportunities, options, etc.). Doing so broadens the nature of your offer questions making them much more effective.
Offline vs online
Leveling is a powerful technique in offline prospecting. I cut my teeth on offline prospecting, and even today, it’s my favorite mode of engaging others. Here’s the thing though: leveling is equally powerful in online prospecting. In fact, online prospecting presents two opportunities to employ leveling.
No two social media sites are the same. Each one caters to a different crowd. If your goal is to prospect using social media, consider adopting a different “voice” for each platform. Specific suggestions include . . .
> Facebook: Post stories; include images; even better, post live videos.
> Instagram: Post quality, well-edited images; videos work well too; use these to build brand recognition; avoid written stories.
> LinkedIn: Post news and articles related to your industry or company; Pose questions and participate in the ensuing discussions. Join relevant groups and be an active participant.
> Twitter: Share often. Retweet relevant, trending articles. Use attention-grabbing questions, facts, and surveys.
Adapt your social media “voice” to match the target channel. The basic message remains constant but tweak the delivery to match the expectations of your audience. The better you match, the more effectively you connect with your online audience. If you want the other coyotes to pay attention, make your howl sound interesting.
So, one way to employ online leveling is by changing your delivery to match the media channel. If you’re prospecting online for opportunity seekers, your goal is to get to the point where you can engage people on an individual basis. This often means moving towards an offer question. Here is a second opportunity to employ leveling. I have found that at this point there is virtually no difference between online and offline leveling. Magic Question (d) works just as well online as it does offline.
If you’re gonna run with the big dogs, you’re gonna have to pee in the tall grass.
[Note: This article focuses on leveling, which applies to Magic Questions, but not so much to other questions. Offer questions are merely one of the questions I use when engaging prospects. Bear in mind also that offer questions are merely one part of an effective prospecting conversation. They are not intended to be conversation starters.]
Leviticus tells us “The life of the flesh is in the blood.” Lev 17:11 This is true not only in biology but also in our business. Prospecting truly is the lifeblood of our profession (with a nod to Robert Butwin). The better we are at connecting with others, the better the lifeblood flows, and the better our results.
The Law of Compensation states, “Your income is determined by how many people you serve and how well you serve them.” 9 In our profession this means bringing genuine, lasting value into the lives of others. And while this nearly always means helping them to increase their income, it most certainly doesn’t have to end there. But—and a big but it is—before we can help them, we have to extend an offer. And therein lies the rub.
How many folks are expecting a complete stranger to offer to help them make money? Not very many. What we offer is good and wholesome and profoundly positive. In modern society, though, our value proposition is not exactly commonplace. This is why we have to be effective communicators. And the only way to do that is to take responsibility. We have to submit to the wisdom of those who already know what we don’t. Then we have to put into action that which they teach us. In so doing, over time, we become the best we can be.
This is how we prepare to make an impact on other people. We meet them where they are today, so we can help them get to where they want to be tomorrow. And the best way to meet someone where they are today is by engaging them in the way they perceive as familiar. In essence: don’t be something you’re not, but rather be what the other person is. It starts with adapting your words to your audience. The song-dog shows us how. When you get it right, it’s music to their ears.
Take responsibility. Purpose to fine-tune your communication skills. Practice what you learn. Bring value into the lives of others because in our business, when they win, you win. I call it a “win-win.” Coyote researchers call it a “yip-howl.” No matter what you call it, I think we can all agree it’s a wonderfully beautiful gesture.
He who cannot howl will not find his pack. —Charles Simic
Note: The Critter Lessons Series addresses the full spectrum of prospecting, including the following subjects found in this article: The power of questions • Ascertaining a person’s level • Additional Magic Questions • Effective word choices • Positive psychology.
- Mitchell B. Coyotes: Decoding Their Yips, Barks, and Howls. https://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2014/03/coyotes-decoding-yips-barks-howls.html (2014).
- Brewster, R.K. & Henke, S. & Ortega-Santos, A. & Tomecek, J. & Turner, B. Do you hear what I hear? Human perception of coyote group size. Human-Wildlife Interactions 11, 167-174 (2017).
- Macdonald, D. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. (Facts on File, 1984).
- Evancie, A. [Podcast] Brave Little State: What’s the Deal with Coydogs? (2017). https://www.vpr.org/post/whats-deal-coydogs#stream/0
- Kessler, J. Coyote Voicings: Howls, Yips, Barks, & More. https://coyoteyipps.com/coyote-voicings (2018).
- Mowry C. & Wilson, L. The Coyote Howl: Coyote Vocalizations. https://atlantacoyoteproject.org/coyote-activity-patterns-ranges-vocalizations (2013).
- Sutherland, A. Coyote – Native American Trickster, Creator, and Sacred Animal Who Can Deceive but Also Give Wisdom. https://www.ancientpages.com/2017/04/28/coyote-native-american-trickster-creator-sacred-animal-can-deceive-also-give-wisdom (2017).
- Dyer, C. Coyote howls have you cowering? Don’t fear, says this Atlanta advocacy group. https://www.atlantamagazine.com/news-culture-articles/coyote-howls-have-you-cowering-dont-fear-says-this-atlanta-advocacy-group (2018).
- Burg, B. & Mann J. The Go-Giver. (Portfolio, 2015).
If you refer to this article in your own work, please cite the source as: McNeil, R. Critter Lessons: Beautiful Gesture. https://ahauniversity.com/blog/beautiful-gesture (2021).