For over twenty-five years I have asked audiences a simple question, “What is your biggest fear?” The question is asked not to depress my audiences, or to place a dark cloud over the session I am about to conduct, but rather to expose these fears, and ultimately work through them. The Book of Lists[i] produced a rather famous collection of fears that surprised a few people when their top five turned out to be:
1) Speaking before a group
3) Insects and bugs
4) Financial problems
5) Deep water
Interestingly enough, “speaking before a group” was not only number one, the next four on the list combined did not exceed the votes racked up by public speaking. For the record, “death” came in at number seven on this list. However, in 2011 I contend that a new fear has emerged, and is making its way onto this list. What’s more, it is a far more personally destructive fear. I’m referring to the “fear of change.”
This is a silent fear that not only haunts us all, the repercussions it leaves in its wake can be devastating. Think back in your life and how often you have been faced with a challenging decision to make. You no doubt weighed your options, and both logic and instinct presented you with a solution. Then, you did what so many of us are guilty of doing; you did nothing. The fear of change not only overpowered your reasoning, it left you with a frustrating reminder when you finally did make the change. Your souvenir was this phrase that came out like a mantra: “I wish I had done it sooner.”
So now that I have told you what’s holding so many people back, let me tell you how you can move clients, family members or friends past this fear of change, and it’s not nearly as difficult as you might imagine. You need to ask questions and listen. The challenge becomes avoiding the temptation of telling someone what they should do, and asking the right questions. These questions are questions directly aimed at the problem someone is experiencing and not the solution you would like them to consider.
For example, you may have a friend who is working in a dead-end job. Each time you meet, you get an earful of how unhappy they are. When you can finally get a word in you tell them they should get a resume together and get out of there. This is greeted with a shrug of the shoulders and the words, “Yea, I know.” Fear of change is holding them back. Next time try asking your friend to tell you more about the problem with a question like, “What effect is this having on your family?”
In the end, the solution is the easy part. The hard part is staying put, and getting someone to look deeper and deeper at his or her problem. By empathetically getting someone to look deeper at the problems they are experiencing, you are not only helping them to problem solve, you are helping them combat their fear of change.
[i] * David Wallechinsky et al.: The Book of Lists (New York: Wm. Morrow & Co., Inc.)