The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.

The Idea: I remember the first time I had to speak in public. It was in fourth grade and I felt the walls closing in on me like a horror movie. In eighth grade when I had to answer a question in front of the class, my throat tightened up and the tension of the moment triggered stuttering. In my first year out of college, a sales training conference caused my knees to shake violently and my voice to tremor uncontrollably. I felt more panic in that moment than I would have jumping out of plane.

I remember with each of those moments feeling out of control, anxious, and fearful of looking foolish. I can think back to those three examples and trigger myself into that fearful state. As I reflect on choices made (or not made), I wonder what funneled me into sales. Pressure made me better, but it also housed years of stuttering and stammering. To this day, crowded rooms push me to the outskirts where I can find one-on-one conversations with the quieter souls.

Uncertainty creates fear, and no one likes uncertainty.

I was recently reading the book Conversational Intelligence by Judith Glaser and she reminded me that when our certainty is under attack, we can feel neurological pain similar to that of a physical attack. Glasser states “When we are out to win at all costs, we operate from the part of the primitive brain called the “amygdala”. This is hardwired with the well-developed instincts of fight, flight, freeze, or appease that have evolved over millions of years. When we feel threatened, the amygdala activates the immediate impulses that ensure our survival. Our brain locks down and we are no longer open to influence.

When we have conversations with others, our brain maps onto, and subconsciously starts reading, the interactions of others. We quickly determine if the person is “safe” or a “threat.”

Interestingly, distrust is signaled by one part of the brain and trust by another. Again, we subconsciously compare our expectations of what we think will happen to what does. This difference between expectations and reality is where anxiety and fear kick in. Research shows that when we are relaxed with another, our heart rate slows and our brain is signaled that we are safe.

When we feel unsafe, threatening memories are triggered and defenses kick in: either fight or flight.

One of the most valuable skills a leader can possess is the ability to have fierce (honest) discussions with others while keeping them safe. When someone feels threatened during a fierce conversation, they immediately begin to protect themselves, fighting back, and losing the ability to stay present in the discussion.

Anxiety and fear color how we see reality. Once fear kicks in, we are triggered by memoires of pain from the past.

Fear is no longer my enemy, but a friend who warns me of danger. If you could harness fear, what could you become?

“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”  
Source: John Steinbeck ‘East of Eden’