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Our Fears Of Losing….

by David Brock on October 12th, 2022

Classically, we tend to view winning and losing as two sides of the same coin. If we don’t win, we lose and vice versa. As a result, we are supposed to focus on those things that cause us to win.

The problem is, fear of losing more often freezes us. We choose to do nothing–or keep doing the same. By doing this, we may not win. But more importantly we don’t lose!

Let me restate this. We are committed to not losing! But that doesn’t imply a commitment to winning.

It is human nature to want to minimize loss. We don’t want to do something that might be wrong. We don’t want to screw up. We don’t want to make mistakes.

We may want to preserve our positions, our relationships.

We see this all the time–both with our customers, and within our own organizations. We label these as commitments to the status quo, fear of change, and so forth. We talk about, “not rocking the boat.”

All of these are driven by our aversion to loss and losing.

It’s not rational, but we tend to rationalize these deeply held emotions. We can find whatever data we need, to support our fear of losing.

Within our own organizations, we try harder, doing the things we’ve always done. We do greater volumes of the things we have always done. Even though we recognize they aren’t the things that might cause us to win, we don’t make the change because we could be wrong, we could lose.

All of us face this, all of us have varying degrees of fear of loss. This carries into our organizational behavior-whether it’s within our organizations or within our customer organizations or within the ecosystems we work with.

So how do we “win?”

When we are working with others, trying to drive change (perhaps selling them something), we tend to focus on the benefits of the win. We double down on how much better things will be if we commit to the change and the new initiative.

Internally, we see the same things. We introduce new processes, methodologies, programs, approaches. Each expected to drive tremendous improvements in performance–enabling us to win. We provide indisputable data and information about why the changes are important.

But doubling down on the rationale behind the “win,” does not address the biggest fear each of us has–the fear of losing.

If we are to drive change, if we are to grow and improve, if we are focused on creating more “wins,” we have to first focus on the fear of losing.

Whether it is with our customers, partners, or within our own organizations, until we address the fear of losing, we will not be able to drive successful change.

The dynamics of this phenomena are interesting. It starts individually, but is reinforced in our work groups and organizations. While, individually, the fear may be driven by different issues for each person, the fear becomes the unifying issue across the organization. It soon becomes an important part of our identity, and we collectively make decisions based on our aversion to losing—and it can paralyze us.

And they paralyze us.

In addressing this fear of losing, we have to simultaneously recognize the deeply personal and individualized fears, and how they become reinforced organizationally. be deeply personal and individualized. As sellers, leaders, change managers, we need to take the time to understand this fear of losing. We need to help each other understand, we need to help build confidence. Even the expressions of empathy and caring help each other confront those fears, building the confidence in moving forward with the change.

And the fear of losing is recurrent, it’s not a magical “Aha” moment, but a series of steps forward, recognizing with each step the fear is there. That’s why we hear so much about creating “mini successes,” on the way to any change initiative. These really focus on our recurring fear of losing.

Once we recognize the pervasiveness of this fear of losing. We can begin to develop tools to help each other understand it, confront it, and figure ways to move forward.

I think this starts internally, with leaders understanding how this impacts choices they make and those their people make. We can’t continue to avoid these issues, but must confront them head on, talk about them, probe and understand them, figure ways to move forward, despite some discomfort.

As we gain experience in doing this within our organizations, we can start leveraging the same principles in working with our customers and partners.

There are no tricks, techniques, inspirational words that help us navigate these. It’s simple caring, questioning, listening, understanding.

We all want to win. But our focus on winning will never overcome our fear of losing.

2 Comments
  1. Jack Malcolm permalink

    Dave,

    I think you make an important point. I do look forward to future posts about the tools you suggest that leaders develop to deal with fear of losing.

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