When you think about fear in your professional life, you might consider your relationship with your work, manager, colleagues or clients. But do you also consider your relationship with yourself?
If you don’t, consider this: The inner dialogue that your brain creates changes how you show up in all your relationships—and professional connections are no exception.
I was reminded of this in a big way during a recent discovery call with an extremely intelligent, capable and successful client who was describing the anxiety she suffers in her role as a financial adviser when conducting preliminary phone consultations.
“I’m just not assertive,” she said.
Let the Digging Begin
In trying to determine what was keeping her stuck in this thought, we discussed scenarios where she experienced the most discomfort. Initially, she recalled feeling hesitant to bother people with the calls–even though they were scheduled and expected–but further discussion revealed she was most off-balance talking to people she knew.
Which bears repeating: She felt more comfortable talking to strangers than to people she knew.
Okay, then assertiveness, a firm prerequisite for cold calling, was clearly not the problem—an “Aha” moment that paved the way for more revelations. For example, she realized that her discomfort began seconds before asking specific questions about personal finances—notwithstanding that she made clear ahead of time that specific answers were not required.
The information “ask,” then, was also not really the issue.
Time to strip away beliefs and self-judgments, to reach down to the most basic, primal feelings.
I asked her, “In the seconds before you ask a specific question about personal finances, what are you afraid of?”
She answered, “I’m afraid they’ll get angry at me for asking.”
Another revelation. Given the information we had already highlighted, there was no logical basis for her fear. But logic and fear aren’t necessarily aligned. Shedding light on my client’s dark worry gave us a chance to go a step further and compare reality to the stories her mind was making up.
Fear Fact vs. Fear Fiction
We differentiated between Fear Fact and Fear Fiction by identifying the facts and the fear-based thoughts that contradicted them:
|FEAR FACT||FEAR FICTION|
|I’m providing a service that I’ve developed through extensive training and hard work.||I’m not assertive enough.|
|I’m offering my time and expertise with integrity and professionalism.||I’m bothering them.|
|I’m asking questions so that I can do the best job possible.||They’ll get angry at my questions.|
This exercise allowed my client to reconnect with her logical thoughts: The facts were clear and presented no reason for anyone to become upset by her questions. The trick was to override the story her brain was fabricating, and raising her awareness was an important first step.
Practice Makes Perfect
Like most skills in life, practice makes perfect. This valuable exercise would require repetition and resolve if my client was going to re-train her brain. After all, we humans have sticky minds and will revert to old habits in a heartbeat. Consistency and tenacity are key when it comes to shifting what’s keeping you stuck.