I almost always know when I’m feeling anxious, and you may, too. Even more importantly, though, do you know when your own, personal anxiety may be eroding your business success in today’s pressure-cooker, take-no-prisoners, competitive marketplace?
Anxiety is often defined as a fear of a possibility, of something that might happen, rather than a fear of something that is happening. Anxiety swirls around inside of us, whipped up by our vivid imaginations, and triggered by words such as, “what if . . .?” And unfortunately, coping with an anxious mind is much trickier than reacting to actual, tangible danger of some kind that threatens our physical or emotional well-being. If I’m being threatened by something actual out there, my biology, having evolved over the millennia, typically presents me with two, crystal clear choices: fight or flight.
Through the same millennia, cultural complexities that also evolved through the development of human civilization have given us many subtle, nuanced ways of fighting or fleeing, but running away or standing our ground are still the predominant ways of dealing with immediate, visible danger. The options seem much less definite when I’ve frightened myself by something that might—or might not—turn out to be a real danger.
Most of us, I think, develop familiar strategies for responding to our anxiety, and I’ve become pretty familiar with mine. However, while I can recognize and name these anxiety “signals” consciously if I’m asked, most of the time, because I use them unconsciously, I’m often unaware that I’m expressing my anxiety when I’m with other people. Unfortunately, it’s this lack of conscious awareness that puts me at some risk in my personal transactions with everyone at work—my boss, my colleagues, the folks I manage, but most dangerously—my customers.
And what’s the risk? Well, the sad fact is that what I do to mute or manage my anxiety usually sends exactly the wrong message to the folks around me, especially when I’m trying to take care of a customer, trying to make a sale, give an important presentation, or influence a key person or project. Here’s what typically happens.
I’ve noticed that when I’m anxious, I tend to express that worry, that concern, in one of three ways: distraction, irritation, or confusion. Because my fear of the unknown tends to keep my innards churning, this anxiety creates a competing, internal force, and as this force caroms around my brain, I find that it’s difficult to focus my attention, that it’s easy to become edgy or angry, and that it’s difficult to maintain a calm, clear perspective in a particular situation. Such reactivity typically has a ripple effect, and when I’m around other people, if I’m not careful, I run the risk of pushing them to react negatively themselves to my behavior without really understanding why they are.
While this is dangerous in personal relationships, it’s the kiss of death in business, because customers will maintain a relationship with us only as long as it’s clear that their satisfaction is our sole focus. If our attention wanders, or if we snap at them, or if we argue about who’s “right” in a troubled transaction, they have a clear choice—tolerate the apparent disrespect . . . or leave, often for good. Serving others doesn’t generate the same social capital as friendship, and customers aren’t paying to watch us manage our anxiety.
That’s our job, and it can sometimes be a tough one, especially when business is slow or uncertain. But expecting customers to hang around and suffer poor service because we’re trapped in our worries is just plain unrealistic. That’s why it’s so useful to learn how we telegraph our own patterns of anxiety so that they don’t compromise our most important business relationships.
And that’s why LifeLine Consulting exists—to help our clients build the personal awareness they need to influence customers, colleagues, or employees positively—and to keep their anxiety under control.