Fear Smells Bad On You

Do you reek of fear? When you go to the zoo do the lions look at you through the bars like their next meal? Do small children throw pennies at your head and laugh when you shout at them? Do your customers have any respect at all for your integrity or character? If you sense you’re failing this pop quiz perhaps you should read over James Archer’s recent post at Strange Brand. Mr. Archer takes on Adobe, Microsoft, and other companies that have let fear of failure overcome any ability they may have had to openly communicate with their customers and the general public.

The Courage to Speak Your Mind

Whether it is sending back an undercooked steak or making a bold statement about the virtuesw of your product it is easy to be paralyzed by the fear of offending others. From a young age we are taught to be considerate of the feelings of others and to couch our language in ambiguity and conditions that soften the blow of strong words. In the business world this leads to what we call “corporate double speak” or “marketing talk” or, to be more direct about it, “piles of bullshit”. Wehn we feed this to our customers they recognize it for what it is and quickly lose all respect for us.

Softening your words does not win over customers, it causes them to lose interest and tune you out. Instead of worrying about offending anyone focus on being forthright and clear in your communication with others. So long as you are honest and respectful you will not offend anyone worth worrying about. It’s better not to worry about people who are too easily offended, they are simply not worth the time or effort. Tell it like it is and be clear when you do so. If there is a problem then come out and say it, if you do something right come out and say that too. It takes courage to speak clearly to others, but it is necessary. It’s really quite simple.

Speaking Like a Human Being

Individuals seeking to shift their communication paradigm to a more advantageous position can expand their spheres of communication and realize new synergies with partners within their market by thinking outside the box and moving the goalposts. Redefining the mindset of customers through a strategic repositioning of market assets and a comprehensive collaborative enterprise-wide e-solution can actualize increased market potential.

I’m not sure if that can be interpreted to mean anything at all. Or it may be a really insightful statement on synergies. Like the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie pop the world may never know. But then that’s the point. If you don’t speak and write clearly then nobody will know what you are talking about. While this may be considered fun in some academic circles, it is generally a poor way to get your point across to others.

The Courage to Act

After you’ve worked past speaking and writing clearly there is one large hurdle left — taking action despite your fear. Making a decision to spend your money on new research, to venture into a new market, or to go after the big account takes courage. If you are a leader in your organization it is your job to act boldly, even if on the inside you are quaking a like a sheep at a wolf convention. You need to take the bold steps that will help you get ahead and stay ahead of the competition. If you master your fear and form real partnerships while they are still mumbling to themselves about “realizing synergies” you’ll end up on top.

But what if I fail, I hear you asking? Isn’t it better to play it safe? I teach swing dancing as a hobby and I always tell my students when they are learning that instead of being tentative when they are unsure they should put on a smile and go for it. If you screw up, screw up big and keep on smiling. If you fall on your face then get up, dust yourself off, and try again. It’s better to make big mistakes and learn from them than to be paralyzed by the fear of failure and never get anywhere. The students who heed that advice and dive right in always seem to learn faster and have more fun doing it than the ones who sit by the wall and watch, afraid and alone. Fear of failure is common, hard to overcome, and, ironically enough, one of the greatest causes of failure.

This is all easier said then done. I still sometimes struggle with sending back food when I get the wrong order at a restaurant for fear of making the waiter feel bad, but in the end each of us has to step up and conquer our fear of failure and offending others to speak clearly and act boldly as individuals and as organizations.

Kevin Hall
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