Fear as a demotivator

How often have you heard a colleague say, “ I would have disagreed in the meeting but I was afraid to speak up for fear of having an argument.”  Fear or anxiety then gets seen as a reason not to do something.  Often the end result is that a poor decision gets made or whatever gets decided ends up with poor execution because there wasn’t a strong sense of agreement that everyone had “signed on.”  Another example might be an unhappy employee staying in a position for fear of rejection if he or she went looking, or fear that if the employer found out the individual was looking for another position, he or she would get fired.

Fear becomes the “reason” why one might not do something.  In the coaching process, it’s important to encourage individuals to do something even if it is out of their “comfort zone.”  Any behavior which may be different from what one is used to is going to have some ambient anxiety.

Individuals will often say that there are situations which cause them to feel discomfort or anxiety.  The situation causes the feeling.  Right?  No!  It is the individual’s thought process which causes the discomfort.  If one thinks that his/her sharing a point of view will create an argument, the thought process which can happen in a nano-second is what leads to the fear.  The fear is often based upon an exaggeration or magnification of the consequences, blowing things out of proportion.  An individual might be thinking to oneself that the disagreement will blow up into a confrontation where another might be yelling.  While that might be a possibility, the probability is pretty small.  And, if the other starts yelling – so what?  What is the worst thing that might happen?  The more we “catastrophize” the situation, the higher goes our anxiety.

So, what do we do about it?

When we feel anxiety (or guilt or sadness) we need to be aware of our own thinking and ask ourselves, “What is true and what isn’t true about what I am thinking?”  And we need to replace our thinking with what is more true.  For example, “If I disagree with John in the meeting, he might tell me that I don’t have my facts right or I don’t understand.”  I can then ask him to explain his point of view or ask whether he has thought about the potential risks, etc., etc.”  This statement is an example of what would be more realistic thinking.

The old joke, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice, practice, practice,” is true here.

In order to overcome our emotion, we need to spend some time thinking about the situations, about our thinking, questioning our thinking, in order to lower our anxiety.  We also need to support ourselves by saying that even if I am anxious, I will behave in the way I think is more effective.  We also need to practice what we want to say so that we have it down and don’t need to search for the words.  Preparation before a situation allows us to behave in more effective ways even if we are feeling some anxiety.  And, the more we do it, the lower the anxiety becomes a barrier over time.