Fear Is the Highest Common Denominator

We're all afraid of something, but how can we use our fears to connect with others and fuel our work?

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There’s a lot of talk about fear these days.

You might be tired of hearing so much talk about how our fears are holding us back or hearing something similar to “get over your fears” as the response to a question that doesn’t seem to have very much to do with fear. I know my patience with the focus on fear wears thin pretty quickly.

But take one of the challenges you have and pretend it’s an onion. You don’t have to go too many layers deep before you hit some type of fear that’s keeping you from moving forward. Maybe it’s the fear of failing. Or being rejected. Or being successful. Or wasting your time. Or it being the wrong thing.

Under that layer of fear are all sorts of ways in which our histories, personalities, values, and quirks diverge. Above that layer of fear are all of the disparate ways in which we’ve tangled ourselves up in knots.

That’s why I say fear is the highest common denominator. We have lower common denominators, but we have to dive deep into the levels of communication to be able to share them.

You probably won’t be able to unite a random group of people based upon their positive aspirations and values, but you can quickly unite them by their fears. Demagogues, mob leaders, and tyrants know this and exploit it. Marketers exploit fear, too, which is why many people shy away from marketing.

We can use the connective power of fear for good, though. Much of Brené Brown’s work on vulnerability shows how being transparent about our fears enriches the relationships we have and enables us to dare greatly. Leaders can address the fears in the room so that they can help their teams fire through the tears.

And by being brave enough to NOT pretend that we aren’t afraid, you and I can connect with each other that much more deeply, rather than fighting our own private little demons in our own private little worlds in front of each other. We can also shine a light on the boogeyman under the bed of our work and thus drain its strength when we accept that the fear is there but it’s not a sign that anything’s wrong. It’s just a sign that we’re human.

Fear is the highest common denominator. How will you use it to connect with someone or fuel your work today?

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