Reframing Fear

There is a lot of fear out there. People respond in many ways. They buy toilet paper. Others invest in the stock market. Fear drives fight, flight, freeze and flourish responses.

Regardless of your response to fear, for everyone it causes stress. The higher the stress, the more likely people are to be overwhelmed and succumb to paralyzing tunnel vision. No one works effectively in survival mode.

What do you do with the fear? Reframe it.

With everyone home from school due to the pandemic, my house looks…lived in. Dishes need washing, laundry to be done, jackets strewn about. Sigh… But then I realized that these are actually good indicators: My kids are home and safe, we are together as a family, and my kids can be themselves (messy!). We are fortunate.

Reframing is not easy to do when there is so much fear, but here are some tactics I have found very useful.

1. Establish the NEW Normal
On recent video calls I’ve noticed speakers calling out what their peers can expect to experience: sirens, dogs barking, children vying for attention in the background. This is the new normal of working from home. By calling it out we normalize these facts of life.

One of my clients set up an online discussion thread where employees could post their experiences about WFH: Working From Home. Post after post was added with pictures of home office set ups, pets, kids decorating, and the results of panicbaking. All in good fun, it has helped close the distance between people with a shared experience, dissolving some of the fear in laughter and empathy.

2. Listening as Strategy
People need to talk out their fear. It helps them process it. Often the very act of having someone listen helps calm the mind. During coaching, it’s not uncommon for my clients to come up with solutions to their own fears by verbalizing it.

As leaders, our job is to check in and see how our employees are doing, listen to their concerns, then empathize and when the time is right, offer suggestions to reframe. Have you considered…? Have you tried…? What if you thought about it this way?

Have your Employee Assistance Program information handy should someone need professional assistance.

3. Re-Focus on Tangible Goals
Work still needs to be done. Fear causes tunnel vision. Leaders lift the gaze of their employees to goals beyond themselves. Connect the dots between each person’s tasks and the eventual benefit to clients, customers, community, and even country.

Remind them that their work is linked to a cause that matters: The Mission.

Having something concrete to focus on – whether typical daily tasks or a new project – takes the mind away from worrying. It shifts the perspective.

4. Express Care
I’ve been reaching out to each client – past and present – to let them know I am here to help if needed. My messages are personal. I really do care about my client’s well-being and say so in personal terms. If we are truly ‘in this together’ then I must lead by example. I’m compelled to do so. That’s why I write these articles.

Thoughtfully yours,

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Jeff Skipper
Jeff Skipper is an expert in accelerating change. Clients such as Shell, Goldman Sachs and The Salvation Army have engaged him to achieve dramatic results during strategic transformation by wrapping complex change in motivating mission. He has been quoted in Fast Company, Forbes and HP’s enterprise.nxt. Jeff holds a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and is a Certified Change Management Professional.