We need to admit it.  We are afraid, then we need to talk about it, and then feel it….. we then need to change our own behaviour that frightens others; we cannot think when we are afraid”.  Nancy Kline

Here’s some fears that have walked along side me from time to time

Fear of getting it wrong

Fear of getting it right
Fear of being foolish
Fear of not fitting in
Fear of not being loved
Fear of being vulnerable
Fear of being judged
Fear of not being enough
Fear of failing
Fear of falling
Fear of crying
Fear of dying
Fear of the future
Fear of the past
When we are scared, when fear takes hold
We can’t move, we can’t be bold

Cold fear, stone like fear, sweaty like fear, night terror fear, silent fear, angry fear, fearful fear.  Ignored and buried fear.  Fear of fear.

This is what I know.

You will certainly cry at some point and most definitely will die.  You will fall, fail, be rejected, get it wrong, know too much, and not know enough.  You may offend someone, you probably will upset someone, someone will know more than you, and someone may dislike you.

We all harbour fears.  They can turn into debilitating anxieties that are visible stress, anxiety attacks, phobias.  They can exist within us as our secret doubts and worries.   Oh man, they can get in the way.  They can be the persistent grit in the eye, the muscle in the throat, the tiny secret voice stopping us from being our whole-hearted selves.

When we lecture, advise, tell others about change management; where we meet resistance – we we are dealing with fears, I’ve listed some above, (other fears are available). When we talk about culture, coaching, and the relationship aspects of work; often at the heart is resistance, reluctance, recalcitrance – some version of fear.

If our own fears are discounted, dismissed, ignored – I’m guessing we’re probably going to do the same with others’.  Because working compassionately with others requires us to have compassion with ourselves.

Fear is in all the work; I’m reflecting a lot.  Moved into OD in 1996 and before that, managed many people.  20 years, and so much fear in us.  So much of people not speaking up. We don’t create the conditions for them to do that, because we ignore fear.

I see so much irritation and frustration around change at work. What do we do when someone we love shares a fear?  Comfort, reassure, listen, encourage, and hold them in some way?  At work I see ignoring (denial), discounting, dismissing and distancing, more than I see their kind counterpoint.

If people are scared of change, the future, the unknown, then they can be comforted by information, reassured by training, listened to with respect, encouraged by offering belief in their capacity to grow and survive, and held by a system that acknowledges there is a “felt” experience that goes with the territory of the corporate world.

Saying it out loud changes your relationship with fear.   After a fatal accident of a loved one, I became fearful of driving.  I kept it a secret, only one person knew. I made so many good excuses for getting the bus.   One day it became public and I was ashamed, embarrassed.  I needed to drive, and it became obvious I had been concealing my fear.  The embarrassment unexpectedly turned into gratefulness as the person who heard my fear started to scoff –  and then realised what was true was that I was really frightened.  He gently got my car keys and suggested we go for a drive.  Man, we went for a long drive, on a motorway, we got petrol, and – we did the long journey twice.  There were other fears that walked alongside this one, and I learned that I could look at them, in the eye.

We’re so interventionist.  We’re SO interventionist.  We see someone with emotion surfacing, it embarrasses us because we identify with it, so we find a way to shut it down. Kindly  “don’t worry, no it’s fine, honestly”. We find a way to shut it down.  Rationally. Through not connecting with the individual experience, through emailing important data closing the opportunity for discussion, through delegating our messages through the filter of communications media.  If people get upset, angry, express normal emotional reaction to change and uncertainty our rational paradigm can’t cope with that. We ignore it, discount it, turn away from it, so we can’t see our own.

  • What if we stopped intervening and started giving attention to thoughts and feelings?
  • What if we created an environment where people were able to think independently for themselves and share those fears, and doubts?
  • What if we let people’s brilliant minds do the change work for themselves?
  • What if we faced our own fears, so that when another is facing theirs we meet them with compassion, grace and let them see us too?

I played with some words with which to replace fear and I came to acceptance.  It always comes to acceptance.

Acceptance of getting it wrong

Acceptance of getting it right
Acceptance of being foolish
Acceptance of not fitting in
Acceptance of not being loved
Acceptance of being vulnerable
Acceptance of being judged
Never not being enough
Acceptance of failing
Acceptance of falling
Acceptance of crying
Acceptance of dying
Acceptance of not knowing  of the future
Acceptance of the past

Works for most of them huh?

Nancy Kline describes us as living in a world of exchange thinking – where we do so much thinking for others.  Through creating the environment for independent thinking, we have the potential to quite simply create an environment in work where change becomes all about possibilities.  If we understand that by thinking for others we are stopping them for thinking for themselves…… and if they think for themselves – how liberating could that be?

I’ve been learning about independent thinking for the last couple of years, making subtle and significant shifts in my own coaching and facilitation approaches, and am now integrating the Thinking Environment into my OD and coaching work.  It’s part of my offering now and I’m seeing small and big transformations of course including my own, so please talk to me if you’re interested in knowing more.

The Thinking Environment is copyright Nancy Kline