Harnessing Fear

May 2005

Last week, I attended an all-day seminar on negotiating skills. It was taught by Baltimore attorney and professional sports agent Ron Shapiro, and was chock-full of great insights, tools, and systems on “negotiating with the power of nice.” At the beginning of the day, Ron asked each of us what we would like to get out of the seminar. I wrote down that I wanted to better leverage my ability to see both sides of an argument, and be more confident and assertive in my negotiations. What I meant was, I wanted to get over my fear of negotiating.

We were about halfway through the day, learning all about how to prepare, probe, and propose, while being regaled by Ron’s entertaining stories about the myriad negotiations he has dealt with over the past two decades. Suddenly he declared “I’m scared to death every time I do negotiations.” Wow. I was astonished to think that I, pusillanimous wimp when it comes to negotiations, had something in common with this master of negotiation: fear. Yet we respond to that fear in vastly different ways. I run, duck, or charm my way out; Ron charges into the fray with what appears to be boundless courage. How, I wondered, does this professional negotiator, who seems to thrive on tackling the most complex (and seemingly hopeless) impasses, convert that fear to something useful?

Well, I’ve been reading about fear lately, and one of the things that I’ve learned is that there are two kinds of fear: what writers Timothy Gallwey and Robert Kriegel (in their book, Inner Skiing) refer two as Fear 1 and Fear 2. Fear 1 is that which magnifies danger and our sense of vulnerability. It causes the object we fear to loom large, while minimizing our own sense of competence in the face of it. Fear 2, on the other hand, calls on our capacity to respond to danger. Fear 2 promotes clarity, awareness, perception, and purpose. Fear 1 promotes panic, causes confusion, and obscures reality. Both kinds of fear are present in many of the situations we find ourselves in each day. The trick seems to be turning down the volume and static of Fear 1, and then converting that energy into Fear 2, which will give us the energy and focus to move forward. I’ve been experimenting with this, and it really seems to be working.

Can you identify both kinds of fear in your work and life? If so, I’d be happy to help you design attitudes and actions that will help you reduce Fear 1, and harness Fear 2.

Sharon Keys Seal

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