There’s no way around it, fear is one of the most motivating emotions a human ever experiences. It is also one of the most primal and natural of our perceptual filters and something that is hardwired into our survival brain.
Over the past 65 million years of evolution, fear has turned out to rather handy when it came to keeping us alive.
All this being said, fear does receive rather bad press. Fear is either denied, covered up, ignored or defamed and is blamed for all manner of failures in our lives – from failing to start that business to not seizing the chance to talk to that special someone we desperately wanted to.
However, used right, it is one of the critical factors in raising our effectiveness at work and driving success in business.
So how does that work?
One of the critical considerations in terms of fear’s role in the workplace is that we resist the temptation to define fear incredibly narrowly. Simply yelling or browbeating staff into a state of panic is hardly productive, or something human resources is going to look favourably on.
FEAR INFORMS HOW AND WHY WE BUY
Fear has informed sales patter and marketing catch phrases for decades. “Hurry last days…”, “Prices like this won’t last…”, “For a limited time…” are all well worn clichés from the lexicon of sales and our tendency is to think of many of them as outdated.
But we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the underlying strategy of creating value through scarcity or select availability in our marketing and sales.
Today, companies like Nike do short run releases of shoe designs, motorcycle manufacturer Triumph does limited production of marques like the Ace Cafe Racer Thruxton and McDonalds famously experiments with tactical new product releases to test the viability of new additions to the menu whilst driving short term sales volume.
Now no one would suggest that these are bullying tactics or that they evoke a debilitating fear (although collectors of limited edition Star Wars collectables may disagree) but they are incredibly motivating and help move us from inaction to action, or from indecision to purchase.
So how might this correlate with driving behaviour inside our organisations?
FEAR INFORMS HOW AND WHY WE BUY IN
Cultures can be as much formed by common fears as by common values. In fact businesses like Aussie Home Loans were successful in building brand equity and a passionate culture, not because of what they offered (their low rate was very quickly equalled by the competition after their launch) but largely because they understood the innate fear in the market place of the “Big Bad Banks”.
Likewise, negative motivation inspires action in many spheres, from driving educational reform, saving the environment, changes to business tax law and even improving our health and work life balance.
This is hardly surprising as we are as much defined by what we passionately won’t accept, what we desperately don’t want as by what we are driven by.
Certainly, this has been important in how we shaped the culture and work ethic of the businesses we’ve helped build and found over the years. In a creative environment, a fear of conformity, or of unoriginality and even of the blank page is enough to keep a team toiling away into the wee small hours – not because they are financially remunerated for this behaviour, but because they fear mediocrity more than they crave sleep.
Which leads quite naturally to how…
FEAR LIFTS OUR PERFORMANCE
Psychologists such as Kelly McGonigal and others are shifting their views on things like stress (which often translates as a fear of a possible future).
What McGonigal and her cohort are suggesting is that stress, an entirely natural, though much maligned emotion may be critical to peak performance and that its absence may in fact reduce our effectiveness.
Anyone who has worked in a deadline-driven industry knows the kind of fear-based response that a looming delivery date can inspire and yet, again, we tend to filter this kind of performance enhancing emotion only through a negative lens.
So how might we better use fear in our workplaces (without HR making us do a course)?
MAKING FEAR WORK AT WORK:
1.Assume fear is part of all of our natures and that human beings are to some extent driven by their fears.
2.Accept that not all fear is bad, but neither is it all good (there’s no point driving fear to the point of paralysis).
3.Flip the Fear – rebalance the fear equation by increasing the fear of inaction (deadlines are a good example of this) and by reducing the fear of action. (This might be a simple matter of leading with clarity. Often the fear of mistakes drives procrastination whereas certainty drives action and speed).
4.Link it to the known. The fear of change can leave a business and its staff feeling impotent, and in an era of unprecedented change, this is only increasing. By using tools such as metaphor and analogy in your communication and linking changes to what you’ve achieved and been successful at in the past, you reduce the fear of the new by repositioning it as not new at all.
5.Show us we’re not alone. Human beings are innately social creatures. We long for social reinforcement. Parents understand this intuitively when they adopt phrases like, “Your brother likes broccoli”, or “your sister got her booster shot”. So, reduce the fear of change, or of a process by linking it to social proof and demonstrating that we’re not alone.
*Original Article: http://www.brw.com.au/p/leadership/five_ways_to_make_fear_work_for_B6PIAe3WyGxKJdeNkIqN5L