Studies of emergency events, such as airplane crashes, show that only 15 % of people stay calm in the face of great fear. 75% freeze and do not take appropriate action. Another 10% display completely counterproductive behaviors. It’s no big surprise that in times of great fear, many people do not seem rational.
Brain studies are now revealing cognitive constraints that limit our ability to process information, particularly when afraid. Our brain needs to go through the steps of 1) perception; 2) comprehension; 3) decision; 4) implementation; and finally, 5) movement. This cycle takes a minimum of 10 seconds, and can take much longer under threat.
It is now clear why simulations of emergency exercises are so important for airlines, fire fighters, and the military. Simulations build pre-structured responses that can be implemented in as little as 100 milliseconds. The same practice can be used to prepare for a difficult conversation at work or at home. Being ready and practiced can help you avoid getting sidetracked when the pressure is on in a difficult conversation.
The individual coaching we do with clients is designed to build a similar set of responses through simulation, to increase the effectiveness of responses to unanticipated events in workplace situations.
Fear for the business and the economy
The implications are significant for leading those in your company who are fearful. How you respond to a question or an issue has far greater impact when people are afraid. To lead like the 15% lead who are calm and unencumbered by fear under pressure:
- Manage your own fear in a positive way.
- Find clear and honest answers that give hope and perspective.
- Be a very good listener when others express fear and frustration.
- Be open to new ideas and giving the tools and skills that your staff needs to keep perspective.