A few months ago my husband, two friends and I hiked down the south side of the Grand Canyon. We had been training for months, carrying heavy packs with our food, water and camping gear. With about a mile to go to the campsite, we came across a gorgeous bridge spanning the Colorado River.
I felt drawn to it and picked up my pace, feeling the need to skip. About halfway across I noticed that no one was responding to my statements – “Isn’t this incredible!” and “We could just camp here!” – so I stopped to see where everyone was.
Back at the start of the bridge, in front of the others, was my friend Lori…frozen, both hands holding on to the ropes that were strung across the river. The look on her face expressed the exact opposite of what I was feeling. She was petrified. I walked back to her quickly to check in; Lori was shaking her head.
“You didn’t tell me there would be a bridge,” she said seriously.
It is rare for me not to have something to say. In fact, I work at not being overly verbose with limited success – but her statement stumped me. I looked past her at my husband and friend who were equally unsure what to do.
“Is there another way to go that doesn’t include a bridge this high?” Lori asked.
The three non-petrified hikers confirmed her fear (that there wasn’t).
Here is where I digress to a work analogy. We recently began using Culture Index (CI) as a hiring and coaching tool. It is similar to, but in my opinion more in-depth than, Myers-Briggs or DISC. One of the traits CI uncovered about me is that I tend to look at the big picture and will ‘jump in a pool before checking to see if there is water’ – ok, so that’s specific. The point is, I am energized by risk and not scared of change or newness aka I am going to skip across a 100-foot bridge in the Grand Canyon and assume a positive outcome. At work, I need scouts around me to make sure there is water in that pool.
Our CI person said that if I wanted to be effective and get things done fast and correctly (yes!), I would need to provide as much information, instruction, specificity and detail as I could muster. He reiterated that if I communicated as I am comfortable being communicated with (less is more) the results would be, at best, projects that must get redone and at worst, people hindered by fear because they did not have time to plan how to cross the proverbial 100-foot bridge.
Back in the Canyon, the four of us huddled a moment and let Lori tell us the best way for her to navigate the bridge. We let her go as slowly as she wanted, and each of us took turns telling her something not related to death in the Canyon to distract her. Once on the other side, she said, “That’s something I’ll never do again.” (I won’t write the words she used when I reminded her that we had not planned on staying there indefinitely, i.e. we had to leave the same way we came.)
To reduce creating fear at work, it is important that we communicate earlier and with more detail, as well as openly discuss discomfort in advance. That happens when there is a culture that encourages conversations about how we react to change, before change is happening.
The four of us had a spectacular time in the Grand Canyon and as we left and approached the bridge, Lori took the lead and said, “I got this.” She’d had time to process what was coming and it transformed her fear into determination.
– Becky Sharpe, President & CEO