Heroes and Cowards (and Contact Center Agents) Feel the Same Fear

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When watching a hero in a movie do some brave thing, have you ever thought, “Wow, the amount of courage it must take to do something like that is unbelievable”? The reason it seems so unbelievable is that it gets the order wrong: People don’t develop bravery first and then take impressive action. The most successful people simply act while they are afraid; after doing that for a while, they’re not quite so fearful. So it makes sense that many contact center managers will tell you that their most thick-skinned customer service agents were forged by baptismal fire from angry customers.

Change is something we all face in business. Maybe it comes in the form of new software that seems to make no sense (or new people who don’t seem to have any sense). The reality is that change is unsettling more often because it’s new than because it’s bad or wrong.

The other big myth is that fear stops us dead in our tracks or that it paralyzes us. No, not really. I remember years ago starting out as a call taker in the pre-automation days. I was very worried that I would sound like a kid (O.K., I was one, according to the floor supervisor) and not be taken seriously. I remember staring at my beige push-button AT&T desk phone trying to will the “teenager-ness” out of my voice.

Your belief system creates your experience. If you really believe that something has a result you cannot possibly endure, then you’ll discontinue that action. So the people who take so-called brave or courageous action simply believe that it’s possible to endure the result of that action. Some people are so afraid the world will end that they spend all their time building an underground bunker. These preppers believe that that’s the most valuable thing they can do, so their fear drives them to productive activity (productive by their way of thinking, anyway). Other people won’t leave the house because their hair doesn’t look good enough. They believe one must achieve a certain level of coiffed perfection before heading to the dry cleaner. And some agents won’t voice ideas in a meeting with their contact center manager or supervisor because they’re worried they’ll be judged and their ideas deemed not valuable.

To the preppers I say I guess you never know, but please try to make sure you live your life and don’t spend too much money on freeze-dried food, batteries, and ammunition. My advice to the person with the appearance issue? The other people who are all about looking fabulous are too worried about their own hair to care about yours. (No offense. I’m sure your ’do is spectacular.) And to an agent afraid to share an idea with his contact center manager, I say go for it anyway—as long as your opinion is not so unclear that your boss now knows less than when you started talking. If you come across as informed, and you have a pretty good idea about what people value—if you have tangible evidence of what’s important—it won’t be that bad. And that kind of approach is also the foundation for first-call resolution. Plus your focused chattiness will prove that all those trips to Starbucks really do have a business purpose.

Being able to move past all your fears is unlikely. Stop waiting for that because you’ll be waiting for the rest of your life. Take some action while you are afraid and then assess how you feel about it. You cannot think yourself into action; you have to act yourself into thinking. Take the actions that will get you where you want to go, and see what you think about them afterward. Most performance data shows that when the pain of what you’re going through becomes greater than the fear of change, you change. But if you get into the habit of making a change early on, regardless of how you feel, you are much more likely to be the hero.

Garrison Wynn is a keynote speaker and best-selling author of The REAL Truth About Success and The Cow Bell Principle. He has been a contributor for The Washington Post, featured in Inc. and Forbes magazine, and speaks on personal influence at conventions worldwide. He can be reached at garrisonwynn.com.

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