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Fear Dynamics 101 – Part One: Defining ‘Fear Dynamics’

Fear is an unpleasant feeling that tells us when someone or something is potentially dangerous — that it threatens our being or well-being or is likely to cause pain of some sort. It serves the useful purpose of keeping us out of trouble; it can motivate us to take much-needed action — fight, flight, or freeze. And it is useful in various aspects of our lives, warning us of threats not only in the physical world, but also in our personal or business relationships, our careers, our finances, or even our freedom.

However, if it is unwarranted or excessive, fear can warp perception, stifle innovation, erode confidence, undermine trust, and trigger conflict. Left unchecked or misunderstood, it can paralyze an individual or an entire organization and lead people to make poor decisions with potentially catastrophic consequences. Yet, fear in the business environment is rarely addressed in any formal way. In fact, most do not even recognize the warning signs. As a result, many suffer the consequences — stress, high turnover, diminished productivity, lost opportunities, and stagnation, to name a few.

The good news is that people and organizations crippled by fear can begin to optimize their performance by becoming more mindful of fear dynamics and developing techniques to challenge their fears and disrupt the destructive cycle of fear-based behaviors and interactions. Performance can be optimized further by implementing changes that proactively diffuse potential sources of fear.

This post is the first in a four-part series designed to bring you up to speed on the concept of fear dynamics and help you begin to recognize when fear is playing a role in decision-making and interactions, interrupt the fear dynamic, and be more proactive in addressing fear dynamics in your organization.

In this post, Part One, I define “fear dynamics.” Future posts in this series are as follows:

  • Part Two: Recognizing the Warning Signs of Fear Dynamics
  • Part Three: Counting the Costs of Fear Dynamics
  • Part Four: Reaping the Benefits of a Fear Audit

Part One: Defining Fear Dynamics

Fear dynamics are the behavior and communication patterns that emerge during interpersonal interactions involving fear or anxiety that any or all involved parties are feeling. For example, I was working with an accounting group on an acquisition for a client, and one of the CPAs assisting on the deal was constantly offering advice, some of it outside his area of expertise, and putting forth a great effort to drive the transaction. His behavior seemed as peculiar as it was annoying until I discovered that he was up for a promotion to partner. His fear of not making partner was making him overreach in our joint representation.

Once I learned of the impending promotion, I stressed to him that our client valued consensus among professionals and a sense that all of us were working in concert to achieve the client’s objectives. After raising the issue and trying to focus on a common goal, the CPA and I were able to coordinate our efforts. He was allowed to do what he did best without feeling left out or thinking he needed to impress his firm’s leadership. The CPA was elevated to partner later that year, and our client complimented both of our firms on how well we worked together — two great results that may not have occurred without recognizing fear and related anxiety creeping into the relationship.

The fear in fear dynamics is the same feeling evoked in any frightening situation, but dynamics come into play only when other people are affected by the fear. In other words, fear dynamics has a relational aspect to it. This is not a common approach to fear, which often will focus on a concrete fear that a single person has (e.g., fear of heights or public speaking) and the concept of needing to overcome it.

For example, if you’re afraid to share ideas with colleagues outside of work because a supervisor perceives such interactions as a threat, your fear of the supervisor’s backlash is negatively affecting your ability to innovate and communicate with colleagues and, as a result, is harming the organization overall.

Fortunately, you can mitigate the damage and restore a healthy dynamic before the fear dynamic causes too much damage. The first step is to recognize the symptoms of fear dynamics. Tune in next week for Fear Dynamics 101: Part 2, “Recognizing the Warning Signs,” which will begin to help you fine-tune your ability to sense when fear is at the root of counterproductive behaviors and interactions.

If you have a story that reflects fear dynamics in a professional or personal relationship or situation, please post a comment below to share it.

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Disclaimer: The information in this blog post is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice from Stephen Dietrich, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this Post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.

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About the Author: Stephen Dietrich is an attorney and author who has a passionate interest in the human side of business. His distinctive combination of legal and business knowledge, human insight, and dedication to clients makes him uniquely qualified to help corporate leaders and other C-level executives navigate high-value mergers and acquisitions, restructure transactions, and manage day-to-day operations. Through this blog, Stephen shares his extensive experience and unique personal and professional insights in the hope of stirring thought and dialogue that leads to ever deepening insights and understanding. For more information, please visit www.StephenDietrich.com.

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