One of the most frequent things that clients bring into coaching is frustration with a colleague who they believe feels totally confident in their perspective and will not bend to create collaboration or innovation. And sometimes, that’s true. But most of the time, the person who seems so difficult, so obstructionist, so cocky, is actually acting out their fear rather than their confidence.
We know this seem counter-intuitive but it makes sense if you really think about it. One way that humans have survived all these years is to have an amazing and almost instant sense that there is danger in their environment. Historically, this kept us alive. If there were bears, or lions, or warring tribes, for that matter, we needed to hear the crack of the branch, react with sense-heightening adrenaline and get ready to fight or flee. In our current environment, we rarely run into bears, lions or warring tribes, so what our brains are reacting to are requests to perform in ways that we are not confident about, demands from a boss to get work done long before it seems humanly possible to do so, and efforts that require us to act before we really feel certain of what to do. All of these things – any many more – make us feel afraid.
Take a moment to think of all the things you get afraid of . . . for example, you will look foolish when you present, your partner will leave you if you lose your job, you are going to be asked a question you cannot answer, you will be late driving to work, you will have to work with someone who doesn’t like you, if you are late driving home the daycare will close and your child will feel afraid that you aren’t coming, you are going to look fat in the new dress, you won’t fit into those dress pants, you have offered to help and they may actually take you up on it and you don’t have a moment free in your schedule . . . need we go on?
Fear is a shared and very frequent human experience and it leads many of us, probably most of us, to sometimes act like a jerk. Not because we are so sure of ourselves but exactly the opposite, we are afraid.
This week, pay attention and see if you find yourself thinking that someone in your family, your work, your church, or your community is a jerk. If you do, pause and ask yourself these questions (you will be guessing but it will make a surprising difference):
What are they afraid of in this situation?
How do they typically handle that fear?
If they, in fact, felt safe and confident, what would they do?
What can you do to help them feel safe and confident so you can get the best of them?
When you start understanding the power and frequency of fear, you will start to see how, more often then not, when someone is acting in ways that disappoint and frustrate you, they are acting out of fear. And if you ask yourself these questions you will have a structure for understanding and responding to their behavior in a way that could help you bring out their best.