Fear Doesn’t Move Us Forward


We are seeing increasing numbers of persons infected with COVID-19 these days and ask ourselves when it will then get us ourselves. In the newspapers, we read – or perhaps we also even experience in a way that is “up close and personal” – that the health crisis is resulting in a financial crisis in which many people are losing their jobs. But even young people as well are afraid that they will no longer be able to go to the school because of a repeated lockdown and – as they already experienced several months ago – will no longer be able to have social contact with their friends. Thus, for each of us, there are many reasons why we can be afraid at precisely times like these and many people are experiencing this time in a situation with heightened stress because fear triggers stress in us. 


A threat triggering fear results in the brain mobilising so-called archaic emergency responses. Whereby it is less the event itself which is triggering the fear in us, but rather the feared consequences which one associates with the event for one’s self or for persons with whom one feels closely connected or on whom one is dependent. Within the family context, we unfortunately very often see that the communication of a potential job loss by the parents may also trigger substantial stressful responses by the children. The fear response in our brain namely always begins where we make our assessments of such situations. Children cannot always correct assess the situation, imagine the consequences for themselves and the family in perhaps an even unrealistic manner and, in so doing, develop scenarios which will perhaps never occur in this form, but they have already arrived in the brain. 


But, at companies as well, we repeatedly experience this fear – not only during such challenging times such as these in which many jobs are truly being put at risk as the result of the financial crisis, but rather during each change process. However, Corona is also forcing many companies to initiate a rapid and above all unexpected change process – particularly then if it entails the company’s very survival. We then experience fear because we observe a discrepancy between what we expect and hope for and what we are indeed experiencing or perceiving. Whenever we detect this condition, our quite complex neuronal network structures in the frontal brain lobe react and, in such a situation, reasonable thinking processes can no longer be expected. Our behaviour and also our reactions are determined by subjacent neuronal networks which were formed at an earlier developmental stage and which are more stable. There are still only three known reactions that remain: Fight, flight or “play dead”.


Nobody in this dimension could have predicted the crisis in which we currently find ourselves and thus the fear which we perhaps perceive is absolutely nothing unnatural and nothing bad at all. However, fear is no desirable condition and we certainly do not wish to revert to archaic emergency models. Thus, we are searching for solutions. During change processes, we therefore very often experience that the employee fluctuation will increase at companies. This is a flight response and perhaps reveals the possibility for the affected parties to once again gain control over their own expectations and needs. However, during times of crisis, the flight option is hardly a good alternative because the possibilities to escape are only very limited. Therefore, many affected persons initially select the option of “playing dead”. This results in an internal (temporal) termination combined with the hope of only somehow surviving this threatening situation.


All of these are not optimal forms of conquering one’s fears and thus I believe that it must be possible to develop another form of dealing with fear during difficult financial times. Whenever fear is created by assessing the situation, then we should begin there and employees should learn above all from the management to experience externally-unexpected results differently internally. That means that we must also work on our attitude. Agile organisational forms are based upon a behavioural model in which changes from the outside are perceived as being an important component. The fear of losing the stability within the system is thus eliminated through the possibility of learning something new. We interpret the change in the condition as being more of an opportunity and less as a threat. All of this doesn’t happen overnight, but we have the choice: To allow ourselves to be controlled by fear or we control it and utilise our opportunities in this context.

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