You have Nothing to Fear, Really?

What causes organizational fear for you and your team members? If you can’t handle turbulence at 34,000 feet, you ought not to fly.  There are options; all of them have a cost.  Where does that fear come from?  Control. The environment you are in is in the midst of change and conflict, which you feel you cannot control.  After all, you are not piloting the plane and you cannot control the jet stream.

If you know the source of the fear, which often stems from change and conflict (personal and corporate), chances are the more equipped you will be with managing the fear. In the business world, I believe sources of fear and conflict can be divided into two categories:  organizational factors and people factors.

First, let's consider organizational factors. As conflict exists in all organizations, I'd safely bet that from the list below, you've experienced each one at different points in your career: - Lack of resources, lack of clarity (especially during change) and overregulation - Unhealthy competition, perceived or real in, justice and lack of alignment - Low interaction, differences in function, level and professional perspective While the power to manage organizational conflict may be out of your control, the key is to focus on what can be controlled in the situation.  Also, remember that while the challenge may be internal, your goal should be to help resolve it before your stakeholders feel the impact of the organizational fear.

People factors are the sources of conflict that we generally have more influence over and often cause more “fear” because they are right in front of us in the form of a human being.  Again, “fear” results from conflict unchecked and change unmanaged.  I will break people factors into three categories.  

The first, normal differences among people, has been well illustrated by a system William Marston developed in the 1920's. In general, most people are a combination of several styles, with strengths and challenges inherent in each one. The second area, perspectives and feelings, are emotion driven and generally occurs when a message is distorted or someone's selfishness impairs the relationship.   And third, interpersonal factors that span from lazy communications, power struggles to sender/receiver error.  

Managing interpersonal factors is where your efforts can directly impact whether a difference in styles escalates into full-blown conflict within an organization, leading to disruptive, unproductive “fear” for you, your organization and ultimately the market place. According to Dr. Martin Seligman, there are four perceptions that capture our mind and heart, which if left unaddressed will cause paralyzing fear.  They are

•    This is forever (permanent)

•    There is nothing I can do (powerlessness)

•    This is about me (personalizing)

•    This is everywhere (pervasiveness)

Most often, those perceptions are not accurate, yet we let them keep us up at night with worry. Be aware, self-evaluate and move into action. What type of action? Understanding much of this worry and fear, again, comes from conflict and change.  

American inventor Charles Kettering once said, "The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress." As the insight of someone with over 300 patents, observing Mr. Kettering's advice may provide us, as well as our stakeholders with productive ways to deal with responses to change.

Below are several approaches that you may find helpful personally when dealing with change. They are also tactics you can share with stakeholders when facing change:

Vent:  Emotions don't disappear and it's healthy to vent. Help them identify techniques to express their frustrations. Just be sure the venting period doesn't last too long.

Normalize emotions: Ask stakeholders to look at how others may feel in the same situation. Based on these observations, have them assess whether their own responses are normal or overreactions to a situation.

Expand the "what if": Instead of fixating on just asking the "what if" questions associated with change, turn it into a productive exercise. The secret is to have stakeholders take the "what if" questions all the way until they come up with plans to deal with the feared outcomes of change rather than be paralyzed by them.

Get beneath the anger to the real feelings: At best, anger can be distracting.  By getting to the REAL emotion, stakeholders may be more effective in dealing with the feelings and focusing on productive responses.

Brainstorm opportunities: Rather than focusing on the challenges posed by the change they are facing, find areas for opportunity.

Create perspective: Discuss ways to put change into perspective such as distracting activities or taking a time-out.

Build confidence: Help them discover meaning and purpose during times of change by learning to focus on their own identity. This exercise can help them to see the forest for the trees and put problems into perspective.

Establish a plan: In line with the old proverb "He who fails to plan, plans to fail," successful individuals operate according to a plan. This step is always important, but can be critical during times of change.

Recharge: Effectively navigating change requires energy. Help stakeholders find specific ways to recharge themselves through hobbies, music or other activities they may find energizing.

We have nothing to fear, but fear itself. Really? Well, conflict and change is inevitable in a broken world.  It feels real because it is real. Understanding it when it comes (and it will come) and having tactics to identify it and address it is the key to thriving during fearful times.