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Fear Factor - Articles Surfing
What's the biggest threat to your company? Competition? Regulation? Changing technology? Maybe you should put fear on your list. Fear is a small word that somehow touches our lives in a big way. Fear of danger is a survival mechanism. Fear of the change and the unknown is a destructive force that can consume workplaces and degrade the performance of our companies. As leaders, one of our most important jobs is to ensure that fear does not take root.
The way to diminish fear in the workplace is direct and clear communication. This is often more easily said than done however. Even leaders with the best intentions wind up sending mixed messages, what experts in organizational behavior call meta messages. How so? The way in which you couch the message itself*the words you use, your manner of speaking*communicates additional, sometimes conflicting information. Whom you communicate with sends another message*and whom you exclude sends still another.
For example, Jane became VP of a small consulting team after a merger. She was well respected for her leadership and determined to make the integration as smooth as possible. She assured team members that she would meet with them and keep everyone in the loop. Soon, however, Jane was being pulled into meetings with her new boss, leaving her direct reports without a leader. She was also traveling more. She sent emails, assuring everyone that all was well and promising to get back to them later.
Jane thought she was being a good leader. She was absorbed by what she felt was the most important priority * getting the story of the new merger clear with her boss. But the mixed message of assurances to her direct reports and her unavailability proved destructive.
Within a short time, her team was disconnected from the acquisition activities. They started to talk to people throughout the company, and got more mixed messages about what was going on. Within a few months, rumors of worst-case scenarios (bad acquisition; culture conflicts) began to circulate.
As fear took hold, employees:
- Began to distrust Jane's leadership capability
As a further consequence:
- Performance in the team went down
Employee fear takes hold when people in positions of authority are suddenly behind closed doors, speaking in hushed tones, refusing to address rumors directly and so on.
Ironically, this attempt to avoid communication conveys a very clear message: Something is brewing that is so bad that the boss is afraid to talk about it.
That, surely, is not what the boss intended. Indeed, Jane was doing everything she could to make sure her team, her direct reports, would continue to have a key role and that the lives of her employees would not be disrupted.
The lesson: A great leader is able to put herself in someone else's shoes*to see how certain actions (or a lack of actions) look from the employee's point of view. We call this empathy. In being empathic, the leader creates a sense of calmness and control that sustains a sense of forward movement, security and direction. Unless the leader sets a clear and explicit context for this type of communication and communicates often, employees are left with little choice but to create their own *worst case scenarios.*
What elevates Fear?
- Lack of shared focus, purpose and vision. This creates confusion
TIPS FOR LEADERS:
When having vital conversations about the future and the organization's direction, make sure you are listening. Repeat what employees say and ask questions. Listen to the logic and the emotion (pay attention to their mixed messages!).
Pay attention to the subtext*what is implied by the questions.
Become an expert at clarifying what employees are saying before drawing conclusions and making assumptions that may be erroneous. Keep asking questions until you get to the real message that the employee is trying to convey.
Keep an open mind. Even if you disagree with what is being said, your listening shows the employee respect and helps you understand employee concerns. Remember emotions don*t always reside in logic. Fear is an emotional response that you can avoid.
Evaluate information without bias
Respond rather than react. Show the employee that his or her concerns are valid.
Accept responsibility for the impact of the way you are communicating with others
WALK the TALK. Say what you mean and MEAN what you say. That will build trust and eliminate fear.
Understand how unspoken fear can affect your business and deal with it by unraveling meta messages. It will have an immediate bottom line payoff.
Employees who know where they stand can accept whatever reality the ups and downs of business bring to your company*and they can be OK with that.
Copyright © 1995 - Photius Coutsoukis (All Rights Reserved).
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