What do you do when faced with fear? Forget about saying you will overcome it, ignore it, or deal with it later. You have to make it real so you can see it and deal with it for what it is and isn’t.
Give It a Name and Acknowledge It
In organizations we know “it” as “The elephant in the room.” The unspoken “stuff” that is getting in the way of a meeting. People are afraid that if they name it, conflict and disaster will ensue.
Yet the opposite is true. Heck, I’ve earned significant income intervening with groups to neutralize an issue by identifying the Elephant out loud and then leading the ensuing discussion. It has never–ever–been the disaster that was expected. On the contrary, it usually leads to clarity of issues, acknowledgment and laughter about unspoken misunderstandings, and what could be described as a “breakthrough.”
Fear can be equally irrational individually. Fear is like “change.” What the heck does someone mean when they say “We’re going to change!”? No one knows what to do or how to do it. But if they say, “We’re going to respond to customer inquiries within 8 hours instead of 24”, everyone has an idea about how to deal with it.
Successful Twelve-Step programs are good examples of the importance of acknowledging or naming a situation in order to deal with it. They all start with an individual, verbal acknowledgment of a struggle, usually an addiction:
1. The problem is acknowledged by name
2. The verbal part acknowledges individual responsibility
3. There is accountability with one or more people to follow through
Name Your Fear Out Loud
1. Once you hear your voice speaking it, you own it. (If you keep it in your head it’s like mentally practicing a presentation: it’s never the real thing once you start the presentation!)
2. Tell someone you trust about the fear. Ask them what they know about it. Ask who else you can talk with about it.
3. Arrive at a point where you have a genuine, realistic grasp of the likelihood of the fear coming to fruition. Then, find out how serious it would be if it did happen.
4. Determine whether or not it’s something that’s worthwhile avoiding or something that you want to act on.
Why be stupid or crazy? Some things are worth fearing and avoiding. But you won’t know until you’ve done 1-3. To the extent we can, it’s wise to base decisions on evidence and avoid negative fantasies.
Here Is Some Extreme Evidence For Naming It
Peter Koestenbaum is the author of Is There an Answer to Death. (OK, be honest. How many of you just bailed out?).
His intent is to show that there are times when dealing with existential questions can bring a greater meaning to life. He argues that the anticipation of the reality of death reveals who one really is. That act connects people with their deepest feelings, needs, and opportunities.
Koestenbaum says that anticipation of death can have ten consequences. Here is a suggestion:
Substitute the name of your fear for “death”. Then, substitute “I” for “the individual.”
- By accepting the fact of being condemned to death, the individual can start living and thereby then neutralize fear.
- By recognizing death, the individual is on the way to becoming decisive.
- By remembering death, the individual concentrates on essentials.
- By being aware of death, the individual achieves integrity.
- Through knowing about death, the individual finds meaning in life.
- By recognizing death, the individual will become honest.
- Through the realization of death, the individual will gain strength.
- By accepting death, the individual is motivated to take charge of his or her own life.
- Through the thought of death, the individual is willing to assume a total plan for life.
- By being aware of death, the individual escapes the stranglehold of failure.
What Does This Have to Do With the Workplace?
All growth is personal growth. If we’re going to spend (way more than) 40 hours a week at our careers, then we’re going to discover fearful situations. After 30 years of consulting I can tell you that no one ever really calls for organizational help. That’s the presenting problem. The real issue is always, “I have a situation. Can you help?”
The next time someone faces a fearful situation, you can be the one to step up and help.