Stuck in the Fear Loop

A few weeks ago a co-worker called me to get some advice about a work issue she has been dealing with for a while.  She has been putting up with a certain situation for a long time, enabling it to continue by not speaking up and requesting action. For anyone that knows me — It could be said that I lean a bit too much in the other direction and speak my mind fairly often and freely. It’s something that personally I need to work on — creating the right filters at the right time and being more diplomatic in some of my delivery methods. But this is not about that point!

She asked me how I handle certain situations that resemble what she is going thru and how I would handle the situation at hand.  What was clear from talking to her was that she was scared. Scared to get her boss upset, scared to talk to the head of our department, scared of what would happen to her if she did take the action — she was in what Tony Blauer calls the Fear Loop. She wasn’t only in it, she has been stuck in it for a very long time. Just going around and around the loop. So when talking to her, I automatically went into scenario mode and started asking her some questions –

Why are you doing this:

Are your intentions solid and sound? Are you trying to cause trouble or are you really earnest and believe, based on your experience that speaking up and highlighting the train wreck that may be coming is the right thing to do?

If No:

  • Don’t proceed.

If Yes:

  • What is the worst thing that can happen?  What would that look like? Would that really happen? How would you handle that?
  • What is the best thing that can come from this? What would that look like? Is that likely to happen? How would you handle that?
  • Could any other result happen that you do no expect?  What complications and/or additional actions come from your action?

Alternatives: Could there be alternative ways of handling the situation? What are the different options and scenarios around those?

After discussing all of the info and options– we both realized that the worst thing that could happen is probably not that bad, but even more — probably isn’t even going to happen. And that stepping back from going all the way to the Top Dog boss probably wasn’t the best first step and we came up with a scenario that takes into account her boss’s role and giving them the respect they deserve, while still pushing the issue and creating a situation where her boss has no choice but to either take action or she will go back to her original solution and go to his boss to address the issue.

Either way a decision was made by looking at all the possible scenarios and she can address the problem and take action. Will the outcome match what she was going for?  Its impossible to say because you have to take into account the other people and the unknown. However, those are points out of her control and she did the foundational work and made the best decision based on evaluating all the data and scenarios she had on hand at the time. It’s all you can expect and ask for when making the decision. 

Take the situation above and follow along to Tony Blauer’s model – The Cycle of Behavior and you can see she worked through the fear loop and got herself out of it and took action – in theory.  In real life dangerous situations, you have no choice but to take action. Day to day, you actually have to act on it or you end up stuck in fear — going over the different options, scenarios over and over again — resenting whats going on more and more day after day.

So many of us stay in the fear loop because we are scared. Ironic right? Scared of leaving the fear loop.   My co-worker has been trying to operate while constantly being in this loop. Can you imagine how unhealthy and unproductive and inefficient that is?- operating from a place of fear when you are making decisions and managing people.

The model above is a great resource to use when trying to figure out which way to go — follow it step by step and you will find your way out of the ole fear loop!

In order to change, you must change – or you can’t expect to see a different result than what you have been getting.