We all have them to some degree – that defined space within well laid out boundaries, even if those boundaries exist only in our minds to define a sense of belonging. In work, it’s our responsibilities, industry knowledge and even the physical space including office resources, supplies and people. In our social lives it could be a friend or group of friends, personality traits (you know, ‘the funny one’ or ‘the smart one’) or a favorite pub or club.

I’m sure you can relate. When that new person starts to feel a little too comfortable in the office and begins to step on toes. (He should stick to what he knows!). Or, when someone new moves to town and catches the attention of your friends (‘She’s really outdoorsy.’, ‘He’s a lot of fun to be around!). Don’t they know that’s your role?

Whatever the nuance of the situation, the result is you feel threatened. Someone is infringing on your role, your space – the very space you craftily carved out. The space you earned. When someone new enters our territory, we can feel a little… well, territorial. Defensive. And when we’re doing that, our behavior can be less than admirable. We complain about the newbie, talk behind their back, even sabotage their work. But this approach is dishonest, disingenuous, sometimes downright mean, and rarely turns out well.

Even with these territorial ‘threats’, it’s important to keep in mind that you still own your talent, skills, personality and nature. You were chosen because of them. So perhaps it’s time to take a step back, change the perspective and reconsider your typical territorial defense strategies.

Recently we came across a territorial dance-off between two male green woodpeckers vying for a coveted anthill


The European Green Woodpecker’s territorial dance-off is one of the most fun demonstrations of territorial defense I’ve seen. While other strategies are significantly more aggressive, this head-swaying, tongue-flicking hip hop style dance is aggressive in its own right, I mean, for a woodpecker. The Green Woodpecker engages in these dance-offs to prove superiority when defending sites like nest-holes and anthills or as a way to drive off rivals when courting.

It’s a fascinating site to see really and seemed to be the perfect solution to this problem – for woodpecker or human – and it gave me an idea. What if instead of behaving badly when someone is infringing on your territory, you do something that’s gentler, kinder. If you’re likely to defend your ‘place’ at work or a social situation, perhaps a dance-off is in order. I’m making no promises you’ll maintain your dignity, but it is likely you’ll show yourself to be honest and forthright with regard to your intentions to defend your place.

And what if this doesn’t do it for you?

If you’re dance style is not up to snuff, maybe it’s time to think about how you can share the space and some of the burden. If the territory is too large, you might be spending more energy and resources defending it than is efficient. The thing about territories is that we have this desire to be the one ruling it, controlling it and reveling in the success of it while at the same time feeling burdened by it. It’s a catch 22, begging the following questions, do we even need to hold on to this territory or can we adapt to the change and redefine it?

Are you holding on to an idea, a label or an experience that no longer serves you? Analyze your situation. Maybe there are enough ants to sustain both of you. Or maybe it’s time to expand your anthill.

Think about which old labels, habits and ideas you can let go of, and the new ones you can brandish to design a new territory and make it easier to share the space.

Looking to nature usually helps me find connections to help work through my own situations. When in doubt I ask, what would nature do (#WWND)?

What are some of your own observations in nature you can apply to help you redefine your own territory and create some new territorial defense strategies?

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