The Core Values Index teaches us that we drop into our negative conflict strategies out of fear. A lot of what we do, or more accurately don’t do, is rooted in fear. It is seemingly always the obstacle we have to overcome.
I can hear some of you saying, “Hell, I don’t have to face my fears; I’ve gotten along just fine ignoring them.” Maybe you can ignore them. The only reason we have to face our fears is because they stand between where we are and where we want to be. Leaders don’t want to admit when they are afraid. Parents don’t want to show fear when they check under the bed for monsters. Husbands want to appear brave and tough when they investigate what goes bump in the night. Fear is perceived as weakness. It’s not. It can keep us safe, make us smart. And that’s a good thing. It can also hold us back, debilitate us or worse, cause us to miss opportunities and successes that are rightfully ours to experience.
The first step to conquering fear is awareness. We have to admit to ourselves that we are afraid, and then we need to be clear and honest about what we are actually afraid of.
But we don’t really want to be aware, do we? As a species we tend to be like an ostrich, ducking away from fear, rather than acknowledging what stands in our way. We figure, if we don’t see it, it isn’t there. Lincoln said, “Better to remain silent and let people think you a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” I mean, if I’m afraid my boss thinks I’m an idiot, why would I want to speak up and give it credence? At least if I don’t speak up, I can hope that I’m wrong, a hope that disappears if I prove I am right. So why am I seeking awareness?
Because it is holding you back.
You cannot fix what you cannot see.
You cannot slay the dragon you are unwilling to face.
Here are some questions to dig deeper at what is causing us fear:
- What are you afraid of that is keeping you from engaging with your team or those who disagree with or oppose you?
- What stops you from asking the point-blank question that verifies your suspicion?
- What stops you from listening to another person’s point of view?
- What holds you back from putting your name in for the promotion?
- What stops you as a leader from asking for help in the areas you are weak?
- Are you afraid of their opinion of you?
- Are you afraid if you ask then you’ll be fired or an argument will follow?
- Are you afraid they will change your mind?
- Are you afraid your incompetence will shine through?
It takes a serious leap in mindfulness to understand that your actions come from root causes like these. The only solution is to address them, rather than continuing to ignore them or hoping they will disappear.
Use this tool: Let’s say your boss does think you are a fool, your peers totally disagree with you, you really aren’t qualified for the position, your team laughs at you for being the boss and not knowing the answer to that question… AWESOME!!! Now you know. It’s never the knowing that is the problem or the issue, it’s what happens next.
Either you will accept it as true, put your tail between your legs and slink off, or you will enter the Zone of Insatiable Curiosity.
But don’t enter the Zone of Defensiveness.
Instead of defending against their opinion and seeking to prove them wrong, embrace their perspective, and seek to fully understand it. They might be wrong, but at least you fully understand their perspective, and they now feel heard. In that knowing, tension will decrease. And in that space of decreased tension you can ask a few different questions:
- What does their perspective tell you?
- How does it inform you about yourself?
- What about their perspective is right?
- How can you engage differently?
I’m not asking how can you BE different. We’re not asking you to be someone you’re not. But the truth is, a disagreement and insightful understanding should change you, even if your opinion doesn’t change. As you grow in understanding your team, understanding a topic, understanding yourself and how you function… all these things should help you grow, moving you away from fear toward love of yourself, and love of other people’s truth.
Argue for mutual understanding and acceptance, not agreement. We are usually defensive because we are afraid of being wrong. But in this place of understanding and acceptance, we move through fear to the other side far beyond right and wrong, to the side of love, trust, respect, positive communication, courage, growth, and connection.