Go Ape…

A biologist takes a team of lawyers to the zoo. A baboon approaches one of the lawyers, shows his teeth and yawns. (No, this is not a joke, but feel free to come up with your own punch line.)

The ape has singled out one of the firm’s partners, whom the others consider to be overly domineering. Through his gestures, the baboon is communicating with the lawyer, saying “[Keep] your distance because I am the boss in this group,” says the biologist, Patrick van Veen.

Van Veen’s Netherlands-based company, apemanagement, coaches people in improving their relationships by observing primate interactions. “It’s like looking into a mirror,” he says.

The other lawyers take the cue, telling their pushy peer, “Look, even a baboon understands that you are too dominant in this firm.”

Humans and apes share other mannerisms, like “grooming” each other. For humans, that involves making small talk and drinking coffee, van Veen says. This isn’t a waste of time, but an important precursor to productivity because grooming is “about trust; it’s about safety; it’s about friendship,” and it releases those feel-good endorphins (neurotransmitters).

After attending van Veen’s seminars, people sometimes adopt a vocabulary of simian terms, playfully asking others to “groom” them—drop in for a chat, go grab coffee. As for those lawyers, well, when their partner gets especially aggressive, they warn him to watch out or they’ll call the baboon.


Betsy Simnacher is a freelance writer who has been published in numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. She lives in the suburbs of Dallas.

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