Fifty Shades of Fear

Fear is anything but gray.  Fear’s many colorful expressions often go unrecognized, even in ourselves. We may think, and say, that we’re rightly angry, upset, or annoyed by a situation. But if you peel back that convenient, self-justifying label what’s revealed is our hidden fear of — you fill in the blank — being vulnerable, criticized, taken advantage of, disrespected.  We all have our own list, because fear is a very personal thing.How we express our fears is also personal. Some people move into fight mode. That can look like raising their voices in objection, publicly belittling others they find intimidating or weak, threatening others to get their way, or assuming a persona of false bravado. Others move into flight mode, going silent, withdrawing their efforts, getting busy doing something that feels safe, or gossiping about those they fear so they feel less alone. These are all shades of fear that often go unrecognized.

That’s because fear has a tendency to ignite fear. Rather than getting curious about the behaviors we’re observing, we have our own fearful reactions when we encounter fear in others. This was an excellent survival strategy when we were fleeing predators and didn’t have time for a clan meeting to explain that we needed to head for the cave.  In today’s world, allowing our fears to be set off by others creates unnecessary arguments, unfortunate labeling of people as difficult or resistors, and often results in tension and malaise in our organization cultures. No wonder it’s so hard to get people to change when we tend to have collective allergic reactions when we feel frightened or challenged.

The cost of continuously allowing fear to ignite fear is massive. Unfettered fear tarnishes our relationships, impedes our ability to embrace change, and starves us all of what we want most – to experience a sense of contributing our best to shared outcomes that we believe are worthwhile.

The first step toward managing our fear response is noticing that it’s even present.  Take this week and notice what you and others do when something concerns or frightens you. Once you can recognize the many shades of fear you can choose how to respond. Seeing the many colorful manifestations of fear is the first step.

Notice if you’ve labeled a fearful person as difficult, unengaged, annoying, resistant or worse. Take a moment to mentally peel the label back and consider what the person might be afraid of.

Dianna Anderson, MCC
CEO, Cylient

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