What to eat, what to wear, who to respond to first, what to prioritize at work — each of us makes hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions each day.
Some of these choices have larger consequences than others. For starters, who we choose to surround ourselves with, where we live, and what career we pursue can have a huge impact on our health and happiness.
And if more than a few of those decisions have turned out to be less than wise in hindsight, then congratulations: You’re not a robot. (Let’s discuss that e-mail you sent your ex after two glasses of wine another time.)
How do we avoid making choices that invite regret or resentment or erode our well-being? Though there’s no surefire way to never make a mistake, paying attention to signs that we’re en route to bad decisions can help us change course before it’s too late.
Be prepared to step back if you encounter these six major red flags.
Our instincts aren’t always on target, but if you’ve got a funny feeling about a request someone’s made or the risks inherent in embracing a new opportunity, process these feelings before proceeding, says Chloe Carmichael, PhD, a clinical psychologist.
“We’re less likely to feel secure with our choices when we haven’t resolved our own internal conflicts about them,” Carmichael says.
Carmichael recommends making a pro and con list about big decisions. Here are some examples: Should I leave this relationship or job? Should I apply to graduate school — and which one? Should I move in with my partner?
Lists can help us get in touch with our fears about what’s in store for us. We can also assess whether the threats we perceive are realistic (this worksheet can help too).
No matter how overblown our apprehensions (your boss might not have it in for you after all, nor is your S.O. cheating), clarifying them helps clue us in to who we are and what we need, Carmichael says.
Tuning into — and accepting — hard-to-feel emotions like anxiety or dread also helps us feel more grounded, an essential component of making wise choices.
It’s one thing to be in tune with your feelings. It’s another to let them steer the important decisions in your life, says counselor and couples therapist Melody Li, LMFT.
Emotional reactions are designed to keep us from danger (e.g. jumping out of an oncoming vehicle’s path rather than pausing mid-crosswalk).
But when we’re riled up by frustration, anxiety, hanger (hunger plus anger), and other intense emotions, we may be more likely to hit “send” when we shouldn’t.
We may also give in to immediate gratification or shun people and situations we would be better off embracing simply because we perceive them as threats.
Feeling blue can also cloud our view of the options and our willingness to choose which one is best. Byrne KA, et al. (2016). Dopamine, depressive symptoms and decision-making: The relationship between spontaneous eyeblink rate and depressive symptoms predicts Iowa Gambling Task performance. DOI: 10.3758/s13415-015-0377-0
We’re better off cooling down before making longer-term commitments or choices that impact important relationships, Li says.
Lower the intensity of judgment-clouding feelings by taking a few deep breaths. A 2019 study found that breathing in a 5-2-7 pattern can lower stress levels and help people make better decisions. De Couck M, et al. (2019). How breathing can help you make better decisions: Two studies on the effects of breathing patterns on heart rate variability and decision-making in business cases. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2019.02.011
Here’s how to do it:
- Inhale and count to 5.
- Hold your breath for 2 counts.
- Exhale and count to 7.
Repeat this breathing pattern for 2 minutes, and then come back to your decision. Feel better and more clear-headed? We thought so.
R ecently, my husband came home to find me sprawled across our bed lamenting life. Late last year, we’d made the joint decision that we’d start trying to grow our family in 2019. But, in a very L’Oreal move, I’d spent the last half hour or so scrolling through social media reading story after story about women who’d experienced infertility and miscarriages. I’d convinced myself we were destined for the same fate.
But my husband, ever the patient and calm one out of the two of us, wasn’t hearing it. “What if,” he asked, “we focused on everything that could go right instead of everything that could go wrong?”
Truth be told, I’d put off deciding to have kids not only to focus on my career, but also because I was scared to death of what could happen. I was making a decision out of fear, not hope, which my idol, Michelle Obama, had shut down way back in 2008. “Don’t ever make decisions based on fear,” she said. “Make decisions based on hope and possibility. Make decisions based on what should happen, not what shouldn’t.”
I was making a decision out of fear, not hope.
Are my husband and FLOTUS on the same wavelength? I’m not sure, but there seems to be some scientific evidence behind their advice.
According to Psychology Today, our brains are hardwired with a negativity bias. As Christopher Dwyer, Ph.D, writes: “When we make a decision, we generally think in terms of outcomes—either positive or negative. The bias comes in to play when we irrationally weigh the potential for a negative outcome as more important than that of the positive outcome.”
Put simply: As humans, we don’t like to lose—so, we opt not to go for it at all. We get so caught up in the “cons” that the “pros” rarely have a chance to influence our decisions.
Faced with a tough decision? Here are some quick tips to become a more positive decision maker:
Opt for Optimism
Yes, yes, I know. I just told you that we’re naturally inclined to negativity bias. But what if you tried the opposite?
In Tali Sharot’s TED Talk, the cognitive neuroscientist makes the argument that people with high expectations tend to feel better. This “private optimism” that she describes is less about believing that everything will turn out for the best, “but rather that we have the unique ability to make it so.”
Weigh the Pros—Not Just the Cons
If you’re a list person like me, it can help to rank your potential outcomes. But according to Sharot, “the pure act of anticipation makes us happy.” Indeed optimism acts as a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”
“Controlled experiments have shown that optimism is not only related to success, but it also leads to success,” Sharot said. “Optimism leads to success in academia and sports and politics. And maybe the most surprising benefit of optimism is health. If we expect the future to be bright, stress and anxiety are reduced.”
‘Controlled experiments have shown that optimism is not only related to success, but it also leads to success.’ – Tali Sharot, Ph.D.
We tend to think worry helps us plan for the worst, but what Sharot’s saying actually proves the opposite: Thinking hopefully helps us plan for and manifest the best.
Try Positive Visualization
When working with a career coach a couple of years ago, she walked me through a visualization exercise to envision my life and career in 10 years. What I imagined: I was 40 years old living in a townhome in a big city with my husband and our two kids.
When I’m faced with a tough decision—particularly one that could impact that vision—I try to root my decision in how it either helps or harms my future self.
Swapping negativity bias for optimism bias isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. Sometimes, life deals you pretty crappy cards and there’s nothing you can do about it.
But if you’re able to balance your negative thinking with a dose of optimism, well then, you’re simply reclaiming your decision making from fear—and flexing your hope.
Shine is supported by members like you. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. See our affiliate disclosure for more info.
“When you know better, you do better.” —Maya Angelou
Have you ever met someone who was great at making decisions? Their decisions may not always work out flawlessly, but the confidence they demonstrate when making decisions is impressive. Confident decision-makers have an ability to balance the opinions and advice of others with their inner voice. Even when their plan doesn’t go as hoped, there is a level of peace that comes from knowing, at the time, they made the best decision they knew to make. They learn from the experience and use the newfound knowledge toward their next decision.
So what is the trick to making sound decisions? How can we begin to incorporate this type of confidence when making choices? That depends. There may be research you have to do, people with whom you need to consult, financial situations to consider, time management—the list goes on. What I have found to be one of the most helpful questions to consider during the decision-making process is, “Am I making this decision based on fear or love?”
Find a Therapist
What’s love got to do with it? I’m referring to an all-encompassing love for yourself, for others, for the work you do—for your life. Don’t get me wrong; I understand we don’t always have an array of choices we love. Sometimes we have to choose between the lesser of two evils. But when we do, are we basing that decision on fear or love? And why does that even matter?
Think about it. How many times have you made a decision based on fear or reacted in fear and thought, “Gee, that went well! I was at my best when I reacted that way.” A certain level of fear is healthy and keeps us safe, but I’m not referring to physical safety. Our safety and the safety of others is always priority. I’m talking about choices that require us to dig deeper after we’ve done our due diligence, ensured our safety and the safety of others, and examined the logistics. Choices such as:
- Do I take my dream job that requires me to move across the country and leave behind my comfort zone, or take the one I’ve been doing for years which I dread but keeps me comfortable?
- Do I go through with this wedding because we’ve already put money down and have friends/family coming to the wedding, or do I tell my fiancé(e) that I can’t do this and risk disappointing everyone?
- Do I start trying to conceive a baby because I yearn to experience being a parent, or confront the reality I’m not sure I ever want to have children?
When we slow down and decide from a place of self-love, we:
- Identify and meet our needs in a way that does not harm, manipulate, exploit, or take advantage of others (notice I didn’t say disappoint; sometimes, caring for ourselves first may disappoint others).
- Have more clarity about our intentions and expectations, so there is less disappointment if things don’t go the way we hope.
- Prioritize our mental, physical, and spiritual well-being, which better equips us to care for and love others.
On the flip side, when fear and anxiety drive our decisions there is a greater chance of regretting them, feeling resentful, and jeopardizing our mental, physical, and spiritual well-being.
Sometimes we may need help from others; a solid support system can help sort through the confusion. Talk therapy can offer a safe, supportive environment for discernment. Finding a good therapist will present you with an opportunity to process your choices and help you develop the skills to manage the emotions that come with them.
Slowing down the decision process will not fully eliminate anxiety or facilitate making difficult choices, but it may allow us to be at peace with our decisions—no matter the outcome.
Remember, take good care of yourself so you can offer the best of yourself to others.
Welcome to my blog. A weekly dose of realness, because it’s our humanness that makes us beautiful.
“Learning to live my best, most adventurous life by choosing love over fear and listening to my true north.”
This concept of love vs fear was one of my first profound moments of my personal development journey. Not only did it simplify the decision making process by narrowing down my choices (one is fear based and the other is love based) but it helped me choose the decisions that would lead me to my True North. It made me realize that the majority of my choices over my lifetime were made out of fear and to realize it didn’t have to be like that moving forward was draw dropping.
Coming off of a post about becoming very clear around the things that light our souls on fire and especially around the idea of taking the leap and going for a big dream or goal, digging deeper into love vs fear was really fitting. Because you are not going to make it too far if you are making all of your decisions out of fear rather than love for yourself.
Making a decision out of fear is choosing to listen to the part of you that is always pulling on your fear strings. Most often than not, we make this choice because we are, obviously, afraid of something. Whether it be saying yes to take on another task even though you are completely maxed out but you don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings by saying no. Or you decide to spend extra hours in the gym and cut back calories because you are feeling guilty about something you ate last night, or you deny a promotion because you are afraid you will fail.
When we choose to listen to fear, we are saying no to new and unknown possibilities. We close the door on ourselves because we were afraid to step into the unknown.
Most of my decisions in life had been made out of fear of “fill in the blank.” Afraid of failure, afraid of disappointing someone, afraid of gaining weight, afraid of not being good enough, afraid of looking stupid, afraid of being judged. Because I let fear drive decisions I ended up living a live I wasn’t excited to live. I was in constant fear of the unknown and ultimately I was unhappy because I was too afraid to be myself. I LET fear drive all of my behaviors, relationships, conversations. It was fear talking, not me.
So how do we determine if we are letting fear do all of the decision making? Whenever I am faced with a decision, simple or difficult I go through these questions:
1. What are my options?
2. Which one is based out of fear – which one is based out of love for myself?
3. What is it that I am afraid of (that would lead me to make the fear based decision)
4. What would the love based decision do for me?
5. What is the best thing that could happen with this scenario?
6. Am i choosing to believe the worst thing that could happen? Why?
As someone who was heavily addicted to exercise, being aware of why I am doing what I am doing when it comes to working out is important. Why am I spending an extra hour at the gym today? Am I feeling guilty about something I ate over the weekend (fear)? Or am I feeling so on fire today and moving my body feels good and I really want to be at the gym for an extra hour (love).
Or maybe it looks like this.. why are you not going to the gym today? Are you tired and need a day off (love)? Or are you afraid you are not going to reach a goal you set so you might as well not even try (fear)? Understand what is driving that choice and if it is fear, evaluate your other option.
So much of our decision making process or choosing those choices out of love for ourselves relies on getting VERY clear on the things that light our souls on fire and what it is we want to do and accomplish in this life.
Because once we have a solid understanding of the things that are important to us and what makes us happy, we can make choices that align with those things rather than side with fear.
So next time you’re faced with a decision think about your options, “am I making this choice out of love for myself or because I am afraid of something that hasn’t even happened yet and I am choosing to let that fear of the unknown drive me back into my safe corner where things feel safe and mediocre.. Or are you going to make that perhaps slightly scarier choice and believe that the best case scenario will occur and you are driven that much closer to your goals and dreams that you have for this life. BOTH OPTIONS ARE POSSIBLE AND BOTH ARE YOUR CHOICE. We so often limit ourselves because we CHOOSE to listen to the fear.
You know how you would do anything for the loved ones in your life? Imagine what could come your way if you treated yourself like that too. Love yourself so much that you are constantly making choices because you want the very best for yourself.
“To thine own self be true.”
No one knows the real you but you. Sometimes it is true that we don’t know ourselves. That’s because we’ve lost ourselves, or maybe because we never knew ourselves to begin with.
I grew up a long time ago on a hill on Bentley road in Puyallup, Washington. I was a very quiet, shy, and reserved little girl. Today, I am a forty-two-year-old woman. I am still introverted, but I am learning to be more assertive.
As a co-dependent people pleaser, I grew up with a lot of self-doubt and shame. I didn’t have a sense of self at all. I was like a leaf that the wind blows away, and I needed to be more of a tree with deep roots, grounded and rooted in love.
Growing up, I received a lot of conflicting and negative messages from my family, such as “you are loved but you are flawed.” I was hungry for the approval of others.
I learned not to trust my ability to make a good decision because the people in my life did not validate my view of reality. My brother used to tease me a lot. I tried speaking up about the mistreatment, but my parents didn’t take my complaints seriously.
They did little to address the situation because of their high levels of shame. It just got swept under the rug, and so I got the message that it wouldn’t matter if I spoke up, because those in authority would not protect me.
It took me a long time to see that I could have a different opinion than other people and still be loved and accepted.
When I did make a decision, I got the impression that people are in your life to change your mind, and guilt and shame were good tactics to achieve that.
This has made it extremely difficult for me to make and stick to decisions.
If you think you aren’t qualified to make a good choice then you’re going to be afraid to make any choice.
I have often run around asking multiple people, “What should I do? What should I do?” I invited them to give me input. But then I was angry with them for “telling me what to do.”
What I was really telling myself is that my opinion didn’t matter. I valued other people’s opinions far above my own. I disowned myself. Somewhere in my mind I thought that they must have known better. After all, what in the world could I know? I grew up believing that if you think you know something then you are very proud.
But there is no shame in speaking from a place of truth.
You do know something and that is not a bad thing. In fact, you probably know more than you think you know. But thinking you don’t know anything keeps you from taking the good advice you would give yourself. And it keeps you dependent on other people.
People seem to lose respect for people who are wishy-washy and can’t make their own decisions. In other words, people who can’t think for themselves are also people who don’t respect themselves because they don’t respect their own opinions.
It takes a lot of courage to stand up and take personal responsibility for your life and actually “own” your decisions.
I have let others play the scapegoat by allowing them to be my decision makers. For example, because of my lack of assertiveness in my marriage, I was handing over my brain and responsibilities to my husband.
I think it was because of fear but also laziness on my part. But no one can really be happy this way. You won’t be happy, and the other people won’t be either when they hear you blame them for your choices.
Ask for advice if you feel you need it, but take it with a grain of salt. In the end, you are the one who needs to live with your decision. The gurus won’t be the one with the consequences of your choice.
Don’t be so afraid of making mistakes. Fear of the choice being “bad” keeps you stuck. Accept that you are human. As far as I know, all humans make mistakes. The only ones that won’t give you grace are the ones that have no grace for themselves. So lighten up a bit.
I know some truths that I need to stop denying and start accepting. That unsettled feeling in my gut is there for a reason.
It’s time for me to stop sweeping things under the rug and start having the courage to speak up. I need to tell myself that I am relevant and my opinions matter, and that by standing my ground I can be a positive force for change, because I have something to say that someone out there may need to hear.
I have come to the conclusion that I need to trust my best judgment, stick to my decision, follow through, and let the cards fall where they may.
I think the important thing to realize is that life has a way of working out. Even if we make the worst possible choice, we still have the freedom to make adjustments.
So let yourself try what feels right for you, and don’t worry about making the “wrong” decision. One of the best things I have learned is that the world is a place to explore, and it will embrace you if you embrace it.
About The Blog
Want more Tiny Buddha? Follow on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and don’t forget to subscribe to Tiny Buddha to receive free daily or weekly emails! You can also grab the latest book, Tiny Buddha’s Worry Journal, along with the complete Tiny Buddha book series, here.
Fuel for destructive anger.
- What Is Anger?
- Find a therapist to heal from anger
How is it that you fully know not everyone drives with caution and consideration, but you still expect them to do so? How come you still expect your spouse to be frugal when shopping, even though 10 years of history together tells you otherwise? And what causes you to rigidly expect perfection from yourself, when being human means we make mistakes, have weaknesses, and suffer?
The answer to each of these questions lies in “child logic”–a term I have coined to describe logic hijacked by emotion. I use this term without any attempt at disparagement. Rather, it emphasizes that regardless of age or intelligence, we at times engage in magical thinking associated with earlier development. Such logic fuels unrealistic expectations and heightens the potential for destructive anger. It’s as if the emotional brain and the rational brain are not effectively communicating with each other. Whether emotions override logic or the rational brain is ill prepared to correct the surge of emotion. The result is impaired judgment.
As someone who has spent years studying anger and helping people constructively manage it, I’ve seen the destructive impact of expectations sustained by such reasoning. All of us are guilty of this mental distortion, some more than others.
Anger stems from feeling threat and some form of inner pain, such as fear, anxiety, shame, hopelessness, and powerlessness. It’s understandable that we might have some degree of irritation aroused by that driver who abruptly cuts us off. Similarly, we may feel our financial security threatened by our partner’s lack of frugality. And certainly, we may be disappointed with ourselves when we fail to achieve our goals. But the inability to be realistic in our expectations makes all the difference between having feelings such as disappointment and sadness, and experiencing intense anger.
All too often, child logic infuses our expectations with emotions rooted in our wishes and hopes, insufficiently tamed by the facts of reality. It is child logic that supports beliefs such as: “Life should be fair” when “Life just is”; that good efforts should always yield rewards–when they often don’t; and that we should be able to control all aspects of our lives. In effect, it is child logic that may convince us we should always get what we want, that others should act as we believe they should, and that we should not have to suffer–even though all of us suffer.
The impact of child logic is similarly prevalent in the current electoral cycle. Individuals in each party exhibit intense anger and resentment toward opposing candidates. Additionally, others experience anger toward the candidate selected by their own party. There are certainly valid reasons for the electorate to experience anger with regard to income inequality, racial injustice, threats of terrorism, and deficiencies in government. Understandably these events create a sense of threat and other forms of inner anguish that might include fear, anxiety, powerlessness, and hopelessness. However, rigidly maintaining unrealistic expectations only intensifies the potential for destructive anger when they are not satisfied.
Unwittingly, like partners in a marriage that has soured, many people are challenged to look beyond their own immediate interests. The intensity of anger and how it is expressed rests, in part, on the fact that some of the electorate know compromise is essential for a democracy–yet feel it shouldn’t be the case. And yet, maintaining this expectation is inconsistent with a functioning democratic government.
Letting go of unrealistic expectations doesn’t mean the passive acceptance of what is. It may involve recognizing that certain expectations are aspirational rather than attainable. Or, letting go can free us to consider alternative strategies for increasing the likelihood of their satisfaction.
Developing more realistic expectations in our daily lives calls for pausing for reflection. It necessitates being aware of when we are too rigidly holding on to them in spite of a reality that reminds us they cannot be satisfied. It requires that we distinguish between what we really need and what we desire. And, all too often, it demands awareness of how anger can interfere with the willingness to engage in such reflection.
The capacity to recognize when child logic influences our expectations is essential for developing resilience, a key component of well-being. Resilience is a strength that allows us to bounce back from adverse consequences. It consists of recognizing when our expectations are overly influenced by hopes and wishes. Resilience very much depends on the flexibility of thought to let go of certain expectations, when we recognize we have no control over satisfying them. Certainly, this is not always an easy task. It involves grieving and mourning, dealing with a sense of loss that often moves us to sadness and disappointment instead of anger.
Some suggest that not having expectations is the only way to avoid disappointment. However, this attitude seems to be both pessimistic and a denial of a very human tendency. Rather, the real threat posed by maintaining expectations is when we cling to them and when they are overly influenced by child logic. The challenge for each of us is to be mindful when this occurs, as these conditions form the bedrock of destructive anger.
According to Herbert Simon, American Nobel Laureate scientist, “In order to have anything like a complete theory of human rationality, we have to understand what role emotion plays in it.”
As Dr. Simon and others have pointed out, emotions influence, skew or sometimes completely determine the outcome of a large number of decisions we are confronted with in a day. Therefore, it behooves all of us who want to make the best, most objective decisions to know all we can about emotions and their effect on our decision-making.
But, just in case you’re not sold on what I and Dr. Simon say, and you continue to believe you can make decisions free of emotional bias, let’s look at how emotions are formed and how they are transformed into actionable feelings.
First, every feeling begins with an external stimulus, whether it’s what someone said or a physical event. That stimulus generates an unfelt emotion in the brain, which causes the body to produce responsive hormones. These hormones enter the bloodstream and create feelings, sometimes negative and sometimes positive.
So, to review, it’s stimuli, then emotions, then hormones and, finally, feelings. In other words, your emotions impact your decision-making process by creating certain feelings.
According to another expert in the field, American-Portuguese neuroscientist Dr. Antonio R. Damasio, the brain constantly needs to update its information on the body’s state in order to regulate the many processes that keep it alive. And, it needs to translate those emotions into actionable feelings. In an ever-changing environment, this is the only way an organism can survive.
For instance, when we feel threatened by something, the initial emotion is labeled “fear.” That fear, by means of hormones, results in the production of fight-or-flight responsive feelings, allowing our body to react quickly and appropriately for its own self-preservation. This emotional reaction happens suddenly and unconsciously. Then, usually after an extremely short period of time, we become aware of those changes. We become aware of them only after responsive hormones have entered our bloodstream and we experience them as a feeling of being frightened or perhaps inferior.
Awareness that there is a constant and complex dance between emotions and feelings could significantly improve your emotional intelligence, including your decision making ability. However, to aid in your understanding of the matter, let me introduce you to Paul Ekman’s Emotion Wheel.
To continue with our fear to frightened/inferior example above, we can look at the Emotion Wheel to more clearly visualize that “fear” on the inner circle is different from “frightened” on the outer one. Or, to switch our focus to the positive, we can use the Emotion Wheel to see that the emotion of “happy” on the inner circle can result in a feeling of “joyful,” “powerful” or even “proud” on the outside circle.
All well and good you perhaps say, but how does an understanding of this help us make choices that are actually beneficial in the long run, and not, perhaps, just perceived as beneficial in the short run? We do that by focusing on the resulting feeling. In other words, we need to consider how any particular emotion (inner circle) will translate into a feeling (outer circle).
The payoff is in understanding that the six emotions are only broad categories with little specificity, while the feelings are more akin to how we actually and specifically describe what’s going on in our brains and bodies. For example, we can readily see that the emotion of disgust is just a general revulsion. Without the Emotion Wheel, it’s impossible to see how it translates into specifics, i.e., feelings.
Only when we see this final result can we effectively utilize knowledge of emotions and feelings in the decision making process. Instead, if we try to understand that any particular emotion, say, disgust, will result in a feeling of, say, “loathing” or “judgmental” or “detestable,” then we can better evaluate the matter and take the better action.
To practice, let’s take a situation you want to deal with and make a decision about. Except, this time we will do it from the specific to the general, rather from the general (inner circle) to the specific (other circles). After you have identified and selected an item from the outer circle, track that feeling inward through the two rings until you have reached the basic emotion (inner circle).
Using this process, you can see that while you think you are experiencing a feeling, you are really dealing with an emotion. Sometimes, I think about our feelings as symptoms of our emotions. So, like dealing with most maladies, you need to get to the root cause (an emotion) rather than a symptom (a feeling).
So, how can you develop a working awareness of this process, so as to aid decision making? Here are some things I find useful:
• Name what you are deciding. You don’t need the Emotion Wheel for this, but you do need to consider exactly what the problem is and the ramifications of your proposed solution.
• Recognize and name all feelings you are experiencing in connection with the decision. These feelings will no doubt appear somewhere on the outer circle of the Emotion Wheel.
• Bring your feelings inward through the middle circle to identify its root cause (an emotion).
• Process that emotion, not one of its symptoms (a feeling).
• Be aware of whether you want to make a decision from this specific emotion or if you want to adjust the course.
Of course, you also need to do all the usual things you frequently hear about as conducive to objective decision making, such as avoiding making decisions when you are tired, stressed or being influenced by non-objective actors. Nevertheless, identifying the root or emotional basis of your feelings will go a long way toward improving your decision making.
Fear in the workplace is more common than one might expect. On the surface, it can be fairly unnoticeable, yet it can plague your organization like a nasty virus. Fear can be difficult to pinpoint, but, often, if it’s having an influence on the organization, it can be found coming from those in leadership positions.
The inverse of leading by fear is leading by respect. Although the two methods may look similar, and both can have powerful impacts on your business, they yield vastly different results. The two leadership styles of Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi come to mind. Both men were powerful leaders. Yet the former instilled fear in his men while the latter empowered with respect.
Sometimes, leading with fear appears effective in the short term; it can cause immediate action, and ensure temporary accountability, but it’s biggest problem is that it creates a sense of false urgency in people, a heightened sense of anxiety which in turn creates a lot of activity, but not a lot of productivity. Often, leaders who have reached a point of desperation will resort to leading with fear. However, there are some drawbacks to joining this dark-side method of leading. The alternative is a respect-based leadership model. This practice is done by great organizational leaders , and can have enormously positive results in your organization. You don’t need to wait until you take a values based class to get it right. It’s a leadership change that you can begin implementing more of, today.
Here are some key characteristics that separate the two leadership styles. The intention here is to help you identify each type and focus on leading from a place of respect instead of fear.
Fear-based leadership turns employees’ attention inward instead of outward. Staff members who are led by fear go into survival mode. They are no longer interested in the company’s outcome, the quality of the product or service, or the customer experience. Instead, they’re concerned with keeping their jobs and not stepping on toes. This can create an organizational shift in focus elsewhere from implementation of the strategy or the care of the customer, and a business that doesn’t focus on the main things, just doesn’t last.
Great leaders make those around them better. They find ways to discover the best in people and enable their full potential. Their energy is infectious; they inspire others to go above and beyond the call of duty without coercion. Those inspired folks, in turn, go out to influence more people, and a domino effect of possibility occurs in the organization.
When employees are empowered, they’re focused externally, and more likely to look outside themselves and put their attention on bettering their team and the customer experience. This is a winning strategy.
Fear Kills Communication & Disrupts Creativity
Leading with fear breeds anxiety, cynicism, distrust, and intimidation, all of which can be poisonous to any team or organization. These consequences make transparency and honesty nearly impossible, killing necessary forms of communication. If people are too afraid to bring up an issue, there is a clear dysfunction within the organization. With fear, the rational discussion gets limited, which ultimately leads to poor decision making and a lack of action.
Fear creates concerned employees who are looking out for their jobs, not wanting to rock the boat, and taking steps to ensure they don’t upset anyone. These are not the behaviors of an innovative, vibrant company. This totally disrupts the ability to change, be creative, and innovate, all essential components of a growing business in a competitive market. Fear directs people into rigid positions, promoting virtually zero freedom for imagination or ingenuity. If your organization behaves this way for too long, it will become stuck in the stringent ways of survival while the competition will seize the opportunity to surge ahead.
Respect Encourages Communication & Creativity
Leading with respect means showing respect. Powerful leaders put their employees and their team, first. This helps to earn their trust, and when there’s trust, there’s clear and open communication.
Another component of respect is being a team player. Instead of having all the answers and calling all the shots, these leaders look to others for ideas and feedback, ask for help with their weaknesses, and admit when they’re wrong, all with authenticity. Their team and employees sense a real person with whom they can communicate, rather than an all-powerful being they should dread.
Fear Is a Disguise
Fear-based leadership is often used to cover the leader’s fear and insecurities, whether they’re aware of it or not. A leader using this approach usually does so to hide behind their wall of intimidation and organizational authority. It won’t always be consciously noticeable by others, but they’ll be able to feel it. Eventually, it influences employees to create their own doubts and lack of confidence.
Respect Is Genuine
Leaders who are truly respected, aren’t “done” once they’ve achieved a certain title. They continue to earn the esteem of their employees, regardless of their position. A common trait of great leaders is their ability to set the pace by being the visible symbol of what they want others to become, inspiring others through their own efforts. Those who gain respect lead by example.
Characteristics of respected leaders are those who are passionate about the purpose of the organization. Their passion for the company’s direction is contagious and influential. Take away their title and virtually nothing would change. They would still act as leaders in any position they’re put in; their drive and devotion to people and the organization is what keeps them going, continuing to empower and affect those around them.
Fear-based leadership isn’t true leadership; this is a style that occurs as dominating others, bossing people around and barking orders, seeing their constituents as commodities they can use for their purposes. True leaders don’t seek petty recognition or external validation. They don’t use threats as a management tool. Real leadership empowers the people around them, with passion, purpose, and leading by example. It can be a small change in style with a massive shift in outcome. May the force of respected leadership be with you.
Stay ahead of the competition.
Join over 12,000 people who receive monthly leadership and team insights with Tom’s newsletter, Game Plan.
Unfortunately, conflict is a part of every workplace.
Wherever you have people, you will have different goals and aspirations. At some point, somebody will want to do something that conflicts with what somebody else is trying to achieve.
Enter leadership. Leaders are responsible in large part for managing conflict in a workplace. Some leaders like conflict, enjoying the battle. Leaders who practice conflict avoidance are at the other end of the scale.
Generally, people believe that reducing workplace conflict is good. Working in a place where conflict is common can be quite draining. Of course, some conflict is often needed to get things moving.
Most people would choose to avoid conflict because it’s uncomfortable. However, conflict avoidance can have a bad impact on a team. Let’s look at the reasons why.
1. Conflict Avoidance Delays Decision Making
Many decisions have an upside and a downside. Decide one way and you make somebody happy, while somebody else feels upset. Leaders who avoid conflict struggle to make decisions that will negatively impact other people.
An inability to make decisions can cause all sorts of issues. Work takes longer as people wait for the outcome and people start to see the leader as “weak”.
The worst outcome occurs when there is no decision made at all. Conflict avoidance may cause leaders to delay decision making until things “sort themselves out”. This can result in people taking matters into their own hands because no direction has been specified.
2. Conflict Avoidance Penalises High Achievers
Decisions involving promotions, pay increases or other perks are difficult for leaders who avoid conflict. Consider a team in which there is a need for an additional sub-team leader to take charge of a certain function.
Several people may be suitable, but ultimately, there is only one spot available. Conflict avoidance may cause leaders to decline to promote anybody into the position for fear of upsetting someone.
What happens in this case is that everybody is upset, rather than just the one person who may miss out on the promotion. In effect, the conflict avoidant leader has penalised her motivated team members, removing the chance for anybody to progress their career.
3. Conflict Avoidance Results in Changes of Direction
Bob is speaking to Mike about a particular course of action.
Mike, I think we need to push through with the council approvals before we start looking at staffing.
In another meeting, Mike is speaking to Tracy, who has a different point of view.
We really need to look at our staffing arrangements for this job – make that your top priority please.
Now Mike is taking the directive of Tracy. Does he tell Bob about it? This would result in conflict, so he avoids it.
Eventually, when Bob finds out about this, he’s going to be annoyed. This may even create more conflict than would have occurred in the first place, if the whole issue had simply been addressed earlier.
Sometimes raising the conflict early avoids issues down the track. This is far better than changing direction whenever the wind blows.
Tip: If you avoid conflict, struggle to say “No” or are unable to push back on unreasonable demands, Thoughtful Leader can help. Check out the Managing Upwards eBook, for tools and techniques to build confidence and help you say “No”. You and your team deserve better… try the eBook today.
How Do Leaders Start to Embrace Conflict?
Nobody wants to work for a leader who loves conflict. However, managers who avoid conflict can also be damaging for productivity and morale.
You may notice conflict avoidance in your personality. It’s important to be aware of this and to think about the impact that this is having on your team and your colleagues.
If you notice that you sometimes avoid conflict, try the following:
1. Reframe conflict as something that is constructive.
I love “constructive conflict”. This happens when a disagreement occurs and must be resolved to move forward. It forces people to action and pushes things along.
Also remember that conflict doesn’t mean shouting and fighting. It may mean simply having a discussion about how to resolve an issue. Conflict doesn’t need to be aggressive or angry. It is simply a differing of opinions.
2. Think about the people you are impacting when you avoid conflict.
You may be making other people wait while you delay a decision. Maybe you are stopping your best team members from getting ahead. You might even be setting yourself up for further conflict down the road by avoiding today’s conflict!
Consider the impact of what you’re doing. There is a good chance that constant conflict avoidance is damaging your reputation.
3. Involve others in your thought process.
“I’m having trouble making a decision on this. I’d love to hear your opinion on the situation.”
Get the thoughts of others, rather than going it alone and feeling like you’re all by yourself. It’s extremely helpful to get another point of view to solve difficult problems.
This can help you push forward and make effective decisions as part of a team, not just by yourself.
Tip: Sometimes you need to have a difficult conversation to solve team issues. If you feel like you aren’t confident or comfortable having the difficult conversations you need to have in your team, Thoughtful Leader is here to help. Check out the Difficult Conversations eBook, to help you tackle the hard conversations sensitively and with confidence. Don’t avoid the difficult discussions… try the eBook today.
Have you ever seen leaders avoid conflict or done it yourself? Leave your stories in the comments below!
Alternatively, if you would like to ask a question or need some help, you can send me a private message through my contact page.