It is possible you have experienced a boss like a gorilla.
You know: short, burly, broad; direct.
Patrick Van Veen knew just such a gentleman. “He was about two metres tall,” he told the BBC; ” he was huge, and he had small glasses. When you entered his office, he’d stare at you over them. He really was a gorilla.”
Mr Van Veen’s boss has started a primate revolution. Because that likeness inspired him to launch a business which invites top executives into ape-cages in a bid to lift the lid from office politics.
Yes: England’s Chester Zoo has just started the management course to end them all. People sit around watching apes. Because Mr Van Veen says that his study of primates helped inform his job as an insurance salesman – more, perhaps, than we might feel comfortable with.
It’s all about dominance.
Primitive behaviour is still there in the workplace, Mr Van Veen tells his charges. Back slapping, stamping feet and drawing oneself tall are straight from our primate cousins. The course aims to learn from the apes when dominance is an effective tactic -and when it’s misplaced.
Learning body language from the apes – would Charlton Heston approve?
Yet the animals are talking between themselves, it has become clear.
You will by now have come across the barking cat, a YouTube perennial.
Sitting at a high window, the cat believes itself unobserved. And it is barking. Its voice is clearly that of a cat effecting a dog’s dialect. Woof, woof, woof.
Right until it realises there’s a human behind it. And then it looks around and for a split second you see that rarest of things, a cat caught short, thinking on its feet, scrabbling to reclaim its monolingual reputation by transmogrifying the woof into a creditable meow.
If it is indeed genuine, it seems to me this is the nth degree of the relationship developing right now between my dog and my brand new kitten: they are thick as thieves. Are they also learning language from each other?
If this is possible, then perhaps it is no surprise to find the biggest seagoing mammals reaching across that language barrier.
Earlier today I listened to a Beluga whale trying to speak my language.
I came across it on the BBC News: look, they trumpeted, here’s a whale talking.
And I played it, and I howled with laughter because it sounds primarily like someone with a kazoo messing about; and secondarily like a party goer who has had a few pints too many.
And then I sobered up, because each of those comparisons is a purely human occupation. I never saw a whale play a kazoo, did you?
It all started when there was this diver in the pool with NOC, the white whale and emerged from the pool contrary to plan.”Who told me to get out?” he asked.
Ah, well, that would be the whale.
San Diego’s National Marine Mammal Foundation have long noticed bursts of what seemed like human speech, familiar in pattern but not intelligible. To speak to us, whales have to lower their register by several octaves. On top of each nasal cavity they have a set of what are called ‘phonic lips’. The whale can increase pressure in the nasal cavity, causing the lips to vibrate, and create speech- like sounds.
So it seems that, while we are unable to talk to the animals, they seem positively multilingual.
And they have much to teach us.
Which animal, I wonder, does your boss resemble?