Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 128: April 2010)
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Techniques for Balance
The human condition: irrational fear
I’ve watched people buckle, fold, and implode through their fear of “losing” a sale. They don’t enter conversations to “win” or to “collaborate” but “not to lose.” That’s like the “prevent defense” in football, which prevents absolutely nothing except for your chances of hanging on to the lead.
People who fear speaking try “not to make a mistake” instead of trying to thrill the audience. Those who fear confrontation attempt to avoid the inevitable, instead of adapting techniques to defuse it.
I call these “irrational” fears because they are akin to refusing to leave bed because you believe there is a monster hiding underneath it‚ ready to devour you in a bloody rampage once your feet hit the floor‚ all empirical evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. (Such a monster‚ one would think‚ would have no trouble taking care of matters while you’re in bed‚ but I’m not an expert in teratology.)
If you lose a sale—that is‚ you don’t close it—you’re still able to move on to the next attempt. If your speech goes poorly‚ most people will empathize‚ and the effects will be mitigated if your next one is outstanding. If you’re confronted and are uncomfortable‚ you’ll still live to argue another day. None of these is fatal‚ and most are far less serious than our imaginations would have us believe. (Audiences want to see a speaker succeed‚ because they don’t want to waste their time‚ so they start out supportive. People who voice objections and debate your points in sales presentations or social interactions are interested‚ because such resistance is a sign of involvement. Only apathy is deadly.)
We tend to exaggerate downsides and vitiate upsides. In other words‚ we over-endow the worst case with frightful repercussions‚ and underplay our victories because we feel arrogant or guilty. Honest celebration and unfettered happiness are in a state of desuetude for most people.
Ask yourself‚ when anticipating a threatening or uncomfortable situation: What’s the worst that can happen? Will I be able to survive the outcome? Will my loved ones and life still be intact? Can I adopt skills or modify behaviors to help me succeed? Will I still be me?
Walking across a high wire between tall building with no net has adverse consequences that may mean I won’t be me later on! But walking across a stage among 100 people with notes is something being done 50‚000 times globally at the moment you are reading this.
What is actually happening is that people are fearing fear. (The converse is when you become so giddy that you can’t stop laughing no matter what‚ and others join in‚ just making it worse.) You have to step outside the shadows of your own fear and confront what’s actually there‚ in the daylight.
There may be monsters under the bed‚ I can’t tell you for sure. But I can tell you this: In all this time‚ they haven’t gotten to you‚ meaning that you’re clearly stronger than they are. You might as well admit to that and enjoy it.
You’re stronger than all of your fears. You have to let them know it.
I was sitting outside a meeting that was just beginning‚ completely unwilling to endure the wife of a guest speaker who was known to insist on singing “America” prior to the start of his presentation. A woman with the same good sense‚ apparently‚ had joined me‚ munching on some fruit.
“Are you a member who’s late?” she asked. "No‚ I’m a member smart enough not to subject myself to some self-styled singer at this hour. Are you new here?" "You might say that. I’m the self-styled singer.”
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