The great Adlerian psychiatrist, Nira Kfir, Director of the Tel Aviv Adlerian Institute identified the four greatest fears all of us human beings have. These fears evolved in childhood. We have made survival decisions as a response to overcome or alleviate the fear. These responses or “priorities” can be our greatest assets. Usually one of these predominates though others may also feature.
Conflict/Confrontation – Avoidance
The fear and pain of confrontation or the experience of conflict is so intense and overwhelming that the child attempts to find ways to avoid it at all costs. Remember, these are survival decisions. This person puts safety first. Therefore they change the subject, avoid eye contact, give excuses and move away (literally in the case of my dad!) from the difficulty. “Off-the-table-itis” as one psychotherapist puts it. Difficult issues will go un-discussed, uncomfortable decisions will get postponed, emails un-replied to and the person will be “away from my desk” when called. They can madden and frustrate people around them. They bring down anger and annoyance on their heads with their elusiveness.
These people need lots of reassurance that your solution will keep them safe and trouble-free. They appreciate your persistence in keeping in touch and respond positively if you have a calm and unflappable approach.
Rejection/Abandonment – Pleasing
There are two fundamental fears of a baby – abandonment or suffocation. They are profound and visceral. The child who has these abandonment fears will alleviate them by trying to please. As adults these people are very charming. They have learnt through long experience to identify closely with the needs and wants of the other person. They do their best to meet and satisfy them. They are great at rapport and are wonderful at sales since they are so intuitive about reading people. However they can lose respect and find themselves left out since they can agree once too often. Under pressure they’ll frustrate others by their fluctuating from one opinion to another dependent on whoever they spoke to last. They can come across as indecisive and at worst, spineless.
To sell to these people, you need to be clear, firm and focused and point out how pleasing your solution will be to their superiors. And your indicating how popular and well thought of they will become, won’t hurt either!
Humiliation – Control
I have a theory as to how this fear comes about. At around 2½ or 3 years old, the toddler has to shed their baby belief that they are they are the world and the world is them. When they experience a “no” from their carer, they can get very angry. They get red faced, they scream, they kick their heels in the air. Either their carer laughs (if relaxed) or especially in public places, gets embarrassed. This is where the toddler picks it up. There is a lot of shame attached to feeling humiliated, feeling small, stupid, incompetent. As a result, these people feel the urge to control themselves, other people and their environment as much as possible to reduce the chances of their being exposed to shame. They are fantastically organised (although because they’re critical of themselves, they would protest that they’re untidy!), detail oriented and great at analysis. Though they can be uncomfortable to have around since they are super-critical of what you do (in order to help you, you understand!), pick holes in any new idea and generally cast a downer on any enthusiasm. I came across a very sweet Controller who gave herself a super hard time when she was annoyed with me though she will have been the exception!
To sell to them, talk quietly and in a detached fashion. Avoid any extravagant claims or grandiose schemes and give them every aching detail to get their teeth into. Particularly since they are so easily overwhelmed, keep emotion out of it. And give them LOTS of respect, TURN UP ON TIME and dress one level up from the expected norm!
Insignificance – Significance
As you will have gathered, this is another theory of mine. I believe that this fear evolved when the baby is raised by a depressed mother. The mother responds differently to the crying infant and mother and baby can fail to bond. The baby lacks the chance to communicate – not just the urgent cry but the laughing, the interaction, the connection the baby needs to make to develop language and other communication skills. Their bodily needs may be met though their emotional needs for closeness are ignored. It can become extreme in that the baby has difficulty creating an identity. The person with Insignificance fears needs to create a big impact to satisfy themselves that they exist. They can be extremists choosing high drama and extravagant gestures to feel alive. It is they who are constantly in the spotlight living the myth they create. At the very least, they want others to recognise their impact – so the police officer and the crook may well have this fear/priority in common. They make superb actors and politicians, leaders of companies (Sir Fred Goodwyn would be a case in point) and you may have come across plenty of CEOs or Marketing Directors who exhibit this one!
To sell to them, get them to see how big and powerful an impact they will have with your solution. Don’t overlook injecting a bit of drama and story-telling. Paint an extreme picture of the consequences if they don’t buy from you. It doesn’t hurt for you to show off – they are show-offs themselves and they appreciate the behaviour. I remember with amusement, the disgust and contempt on the face of a Controller friend of mine who told me of a Significance man trying to persuade him to invest £27,000 by buying a franchise with him by taking him out into the car park and showing him his new Aston Martin!
When thinking about a prospect, don’t ask why they do something. Always ask what’s the reward for how they behave. Every behaviour has a reward, even the most extreme forms of bad behaviour. The secret is to ask what the pay-off is and you’ll identify what their Fear/Priority is.