An elegant, highly educated, world traveller and experienced executive at a restaurant -- having the hardest time choosing from a menu. It is not the restaurant’s doing and the menu is not exotic to the person in question. This is just what happens every time a food choice needs to be made. The internal conflict this person faces is visible. While sometimes funny, at other times it is a little hard to watch.
A nameless dread,
‘decidophobia’. This term was coined by Princeton University philosopher Walter Kaufmann in his book Without Guilt and Justice. This can and does affect people even when it comes to the smallest choices, such as what to have for lunch or what to wear. Political correctness: In a world where leadership is evaluated and employee engagement is under constant scrutiny, a manager may not want to take the risk of wanting to distinguish between high and low performers. This, however, makes the talented, highly motivated employees less likely to want to give their best. Stalling: Not wanting to look uninformed, a boss may want to delay a decision until ‘more fully informed’. While sometimes this may be a real need for additional information, at others it is a delay tactic. It is essential to recognise and to differentiate between strategic or ‘fateful’ decisions that will affect the futures of many and the more mundane or ‘trivial’ such as where to hold the next company conference.
As you move up the corporate ladder and the stakes get higher, the decisions you need to make are not only far-reaching in their scope but are often more layered and complex. This, in turn, means that the ability to accept far greater levels of ambiguity on a regular basis is a vital necessity. Courageously facing the risks and uncertainties implicit in all crucial decisions is part of the deal and great leaders recognise this and are able to take responsibility for their decisions.
According to Abraham Maslow’s
Hierarchy of Needs, a sense of belonging is one of the basic human needs and it falls right in the middle of his famous pyramid. Many of our fears take their roots in this need to belong and can often be traced to the fear of rejection in one form or another. In order to work around our fears, it is important to be able to question them. Fear, of course, has its evolutionary usefulness and the fight or flight instinct helped humans survive through the ages. However, many of our modern fears have little to do with real survival and are no more than self-invented perceptions. It can even be said that fear is a socially accepted form of insanity. It has been normalised but should not ever have been. The acceptance of the very real consequences of something that despite being unreal and imagined can affect our ability to distinguish between the real and unreal. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy where we create a reality based on what is essentially a scary story that we choose to tell ourselves. For example, you have goods that you want to return to a shop and unsure of how this will play out, your entire attitude before even speaking with any of the employees is one of defensiveness, bordering on rude. Your expectation of non-cooperation and therefore fear of not getting what you want makes you react this way and sets in motion the cycle of rejection because your aggressiveness as you walk into the shop and claim your rights leaves little room for consideration or cooperation.
In order to travel the path to achieving what we want and to be able to transform our lives, the ability to face our worst fears of rejection and to go beyond them is necessary. Can we possibly trust the infinitesimally small probability that may be we will not be mocked for our imperfections, maybe the surprise will be a good one, maybe the angst was what created the problem and not, as fear would have us believe, the result of one?
Those who do manage to create success are the ones who move outside limitations that are self imposed and self made. We hear a lot about moving out of the comfort zone, those who do manage to do so are the really successful ones. We respect them and would like to be like them, but we have a hard time truly emulating them.
Maybe just talking about moving outside the
comfort zone is far too scary a prospect. Being in a place where angst takes over is neither necessary, sustainable or even desirable. Andy Molinsky, professor of organisational behaviour at Brandeis University’s International Business School, gives us another option in his recent book Reach: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge, and Build Confidence. He calls it the Stretch-Zone and describes this as being “when you’re experiencing some level of anxiety, but at a point where you can turn it into motivation and productivity fuel.”
In a nutshell, deflecting fear and moving forward despite it, is about first becoming familiar with the discomfort in order to push towards new growth. I hope you stretch a little further today.
Nandita Sood Perret is a communications consultant and leadership coach at CTD Cultural Insights, where she helps people and companies break through old patterns, to develop new perspectives and innovative solutions for collaboration and growth.
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