The Voice Of Fear

Fear Shift

This traffic is going to make us late, we will be the last ones there!!!

Did you know the people in the back are the first to get served?

Really? Shoot the traffic is clearing.

One of the techniques I use almost every day is what I call a fear shift. This is when you encounter a person who is fearful and tries to shift their fear in a productive direction. In order to do this you have to figure out what the current fear is.


In a customer service environment, when the client is unhappy it is because they fear that their needs will not be met. If you can quickly show them how their needs will be met you can alleviate the fear. Sometimes it is as simple as telling them you will handle the situation. But sometimes the situation will not be as controlled and you only have seconds to react.


Let's say I get in a fender bender with another car and the driver springs out of their car angry at the damage I have done. If I act too submissive it might increase their aggression, and if I get aggressive a fight may start. What you want to do in this situation is flip their fear with your heart, not with more fear.


So I put my hands up and motion for him to stop (a good position if I do have to defend myself) and say in a firm but calm voice: "Are you okay?" I keep repeating this until I know he has heard me. I am shifting his fear back on him and getting him to refocus on himself. If I can't get him to listen then at least I have early warning that I have a real problem. If I do get him to listen and I assure him that my insurance will cover the damage then the situation should die down.


Unless you have crashed into a serial killer, this will usually shift their fear. Most people are not bad, they are just scared. But even good people can do bad things, so that is why it is so important to shift their fear. There aren't too many good people that are going to attack you while you are asking how they are doing. 


A fear shift is nothing more than changing what a person fears by moving them into their heart or to a different fear to calm them down. By asking the angry driver how he was doing I was caring for him. That act alone will calm most fearful people.


The next three stories illustrate three different situations that required me to shift a person's fear.







The summer of my junior year of high school I got a job at a local TV station. The summer before, my father had given the general manager’s daughter a job at my father's radio station, so the manager returned the favor to me. I thought that I would empty trash cans, run mail, be a gopher for the talent, etc.


But nope -- they made me a cameraman.


I was in shock when they told me, but I thought the training must be extensive and the summer would be over before I was even trained.


Wrong again.


I got about four hours of instruction and then was live for the evening news. This lack of training seemed strange to me at first but I later figured out why that was. 


I hated this job. The fear of screwing up made me nervous and sick to my stomach every day I worked. One of the problems I had was focusing the camera. Being under pressure (and dyslexic), I could not remember which way to twist the zoom knob so I would constantly zoom in the wrong direction. My friends and family started watching the news when I was working just to laugh at my mistakes.


In one day I managed to blow out a camera by unplugging it with the power on (no one told me to turn it off first), incorrectly wired the microphones and also missed several instructions by the director. Needless to say they were not so happy with me. But because the boss had hired me, no one said anything.


After the first month I couldn't take it anymore. I knew I had two choices: quit or get good at this. I finally realized that no one rooted for me or offered to help because I had been given the position and had not earned it. Apparently this was a hard job to get and all the other cameramen had paid their dues to get it. The head cameraman got great joy out of my screw ups and I knew he hoped that I would quit. I knew that I had to motivate him to train me and want me to succeed. Up until this point his only motivation was to see me fail. So I told a white lie to shift his fear. 


My father was well known in the broadcasting world and owned two local radio stations. I found the head cameraman in the break room and put my plan into play. I complained about how hard the job was and, feeling his satisfaction at my struggle, told him I had hoped to be a cameraman at the TV station my father was trying to buy. I said this was a bit of a secret and asked if he would keep it to himself. He silently nodded his head. 


I knew from hearing my father talk that one of the local network stations was in play to be sold, but that my father was not one of the bidders. But the head cameraman didn't need to know that. I saw the wheels spin. It couldn't hurt to be on the son's good side after all. His attitude immediately changed. He tried not to overreact and appeared nonchalant. When he offered to come in early to train me more and show me the tools of the trade, I acted like I didn’t have a clue and said that would be great.


Over the next two weeks I got fully up to speed. I was no longer nervous or sick to my stomach. Summer eventually ended and the head cameraman never knew that he had been fear shifted.


This fear shift worked for me, but I object to unethical fear shifts which get used in marketing every day. How many times do you hear an ad use scarcity as a tool to get people into the store now before 'item x' is all gone? Or when real estate or stocks get hot and you hear that you better get in now before it's too late. These are examples of fear shift techniques.


I had a friend who was looking to buy a house. He made an offer on one but it was too low. He got a call from his agent (whom I didn't trust), telling him that three more offers were coming in and if he wanted it he better jump on it. The agent went on to tell him all the reasons why he would regret not getting this house.


My friend's fear shifted and he made a full price offer. I asked him to make the agent prove the three other offers were real, but the agent never did. He got the house, but I know that my friend got fear shifted.


We live in a world of fear, and the world is constantly trying to shift our fears. People want others to see things their way so they can feel safe. They believe that if they can shift others to fearing the same things that they do they will be safer. Whether a person argues religion, politics or the weather, their fear wants the group to agree with their vision.


It is a worthy skill to know how to shift fear if it is done from the heart for the greater good. I tried to shift my friend's fear so he could see he had the wrong agent, but the agent had successfully shifted him so all he could see was the house getting away.


I had another situation where I successfully fear shifted a dangerous situation. The aftermath of the situation shows how fear shifting can be a powerful tool in our arsenal.



A Day at the Beach



In 1982 my girlfriend and I took a day trip up to Lake Tahoe with her brother and his girlfriend. We decided to have a picnic by the lake. We found a perfect spot by a public marina and set up our blanket, beginning what we thought would be a lovely, relaxing day by the beach.


But it was not to be.


I spotted two guys walking through the marina. They stood out quite a bit as they were wearing motorcycle boots, dirty jeans, one with a leather jacket and the other bare-chested. I could tell by their behavior that they were high on something. Both were mean looking and muscularly built. They were still quite a distance away, but my instincts told me that I would be dealing with these two soon.


As they entered the picnic area they started to hassle people by making rude comments or grabbing food from them. Most of the people were families with kids or individuals who were not prepared for this intrusion. Because I was the oldest male in our group I felt I had a responsibility to deal with what was coming.


Bravery means doing what you have to do despite being scared.


I slipped the knife that we used to cut the bread under the blanket next to me in case something got really crazy. Given their drugged behavior it was difficult to say what they were capable of.


Eventually it was our turn.


The one with no shirt, who seemed the more aggressive of the two, looked at my girlfriend’s brother, who was wearing a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses. The shirtless man said, “Hey man I want to wear your glasses.” He reached for his face to try and remove them. My mind was spinning about how I could prevent an altercation and keep my girlfriend's brother safe. Clearly this was a predator who would feed on submissive behavior, but by the same token he wouldn’t take well to aggressive behavior either. As he was reaching to take the glasses I spoke up.


“How do we know that you will return the glasses?”


He stared at me with a look that said he didn't know. He then prepared to turn his aggression on me. I noticed he had one of those big leather wallets in his back pocket with a chain attached to his belt loop. I decided I might try to appeal to his ego as a way to escape this dangerous moment.


“How about leaving your wallet?” I said.


I could tell it was pretty well stuffed with cash.


“That is if there is anything in it.”


That was my bait. I hoped he would want to brag about how much money was in it. Luckily for me he did. He pumped up and told me there was 1500 dollars in his wallet. I continued to play to his ego and I said there was no way. He pulled it out of his pocket, came over to me and showed me.


“Wow!” I said, taking the wallet from him.


At that point I looked at my girlfriend’s brother and told him to give the guy the glasses. He handed them to the guy, who proceeded to walk around the beach. I could tell he was going to wear them long enough to show that he had won, so after about five minutes he came back, tossed them back and I handed him his wallet and it appeared our turn was over.


Once they had moved away I told everyone to pack up and that we were leaving. This was a dangerous situation and it was only going to get worse and I was not so sure I would get so lucky the next time. 


As we were putting our gear in the trunk we heard some noise as if a fight had broken out. It was only a few minutes later that the police arrived and took both men away in handcuffs. The next people they hassled chose to get aggressive with them and a fight ensued. I had managed to get us out of the situation safely because I managed to fear shift the aggressor without my own fear being revealed.


My girlfriend later told me it was very brave of me to stand up for her brother and take responsibility for the group. I thought about it and it was brave I suppose, but I really didn't know what alternative I had, I was just glad I was able to shift his fear.



From the Ladies' Tees, Please



I played on the golf team in college. My first year I was at a large college where the competition was very tough. The toughest part for me, however, was not playing the other big schools, but rather playing against my teammates. Many of the players were more interested in beating other teammates than they were in beating the other schools.


There was one player who was terrible when it came to competing with teammates. I will call him Bill. Bill was almost obsessed with playing side games, even during the college tournaments. 


In college golf you play six players and keep five scores. Bill was one of the top players while I was just good enough to make the team and be the sixth player. My job was to post a usable score in case one of the better players had a bad day. I was really no competition for Bill, but he set his sights squarely on me anyway.


I had avoided playing any side games with him for two reasons: 1) he was better than me and 2) he always played for money. He came from a rich family so the money didn’t mean anything to him. But I had no money, as was the case with most of the guys on the team.


I finally figured out that this was his edge, because Bill never played as well against the other teams in matches as he did on our home course against his teammates. Since he had plenty of money, losing presented no risk to him. His teammates, on the other hand, could not afford to lose.


He always tried to get the betting as high as he could in order to apply as much pressure on his opponent as possible. I knew he would make my life miserable if I kept trying to avoid him, so I decided that I needed a strategy that would put the pressure on him and take it off of me.


So the day eventually came. Bill and I were grouped together in a qualifying match for the upcoming tournament.  He cornered me and applied the pressure to bet and I agreed, a little to his surprise.


As he started to tell me what the bet was I stopped him.


“If you want to play, we are not playing for money,” I said. “The loser has to play from the ladies' tees during our next practice and you can’t tell anyone why.”


“That's ridiculous,” he said.


“That's the bet. Take it or leave it,” I responded.


That was the last time he asked me to bet, and as a bonus he left me completely alone. I had flipped the fear over on him. Had I lost I could have cared less about playing from the ladies' tees or being made fun of. But there was no way he was going to risk losing to me. His ego never would have survived.




Me and My Marine



I had many experiences in college. I have talked about my golf experience and getting over being shy, but the one that stands out the most in regards to the dynamic of fear was my freshman year living in a Marine ROTC dorm.


My first room assignment was in a normal dorm but my roommate never showed up and they didn’t want me living in the room alone. Obviously someone made a mistake reassigning me since I was the only person in the dorm that was not Marine ROTC. But I was a freshman, so what did I know?


My roommate was nice enough; he was from Virginia and was in ROTC just to get the college benefits after serving, so he wasn’t real hardcore. He was pretty much the exception. Most of the young lads on the floor wanted to be lifers and took things pretty seriously. Most were from the south and they weren’t big on yanks or Jews and, well, I was both.


Having the killer of Christ on the floor didn’t sit very well with them. I remember my dad telling me that all you have to do to a bully is stand up to him and he will back down. Well that might be true in the civilian world, but not so much in the Marine world. Most of the pranks were pretty harmless, like taking those small boxes of cereal you get at the cafeteria and adding a little lighter fluid and lighting it and throwing it in my room as napalm. Sometimes they would just squirt it under the door and then light it. They usually waited until my roommate was gone. I got smart and started locking my door and putting a towel at the bottom.


But Marines learn to adapt pretty quickly. One day I was walking through the dorm parking lot, returning from the golf course with my bag over my shoulder when several of them cornered me. They started making fun of me for playing golf and talking about taking me as a prisoner of war. The ringleader of the bunch was named Goodel. He was truly crazy and liked to punch windows just to watch himself bleed. I realized I had to do something to stop the abuse so I remembered back to my cardboard box.


I was standing in front of one of the Marine’s cars and the trunk was open; it was a Chevy Chevelle.


“Put me in the trunk,” I said.


They all went silent as their collective 100 I.Q. tried to figure out what I was up to.


“Prisoners get put in small, dark places don’t they? Make me a prisoner of war. I bet I can stay in that trunk longer than any of you,” I said. “Especially you, Goodel.”


I had noticed that Goodel did not do well in crowds or small spaces. It was probably the reason he broke so many windows. I knew there was no danger in the trunk so I went with my hunch and issued the challenge. Before I knew it Goodel picked me up, threw me in and slammed the trunk.


They tried everything to rattle me. They rocked the car, banged on the trunk, anything they could. It made no difference to me, I was back in my box defending against alien invaders. After about 20 minutes the trunk opened and I was pulled out. I thought that my little plan had backfired and that I was going to die.


Goodel looked like a crazy person. I could tell that his fear of getting in the trunk had hit a peak. He shoved me away and told me to get my “faggot ass” out of his sight. They all laughed and I headed to my room. I kept thinking how my college experience wasn’t exactly like the brochure. As I laid on my bed only slightly worse for the wear, I knew I had made a big mistake. Making him see his fear meant that I would have to be destroyed. I told my roommate what had happened and he agreed.


I did everything I could to avoid the guy, but I ran into him coming out of the cafeteria with my roommate. He stopped when he saw me and told me a joke.


“Slater, do you know why they bury Jews standing up?” he said.


I said nothing.


“Because they are so tight they have to screw them into the ground.”


I made the mistake of rolling my eyes and that was all it took. He was on me so fast all I could do was curl up in a ball and protect my vitals. My roommate and a couple other Marines pulled him off. He said nothing and stormed off. My roommate picked me up, my glasses were broken and I was pretty bruised but nothing that wouldn’t heal. He asked me if I was okay and I told him that the waiting was worse than the beating.


After a good deal of thought I decided I would not lodge a complaint and just buck up like a good Marine. The next day I was lying on my bed still nursing my bruises when Goodel appeared at my door. At first I thought he was coming to finish the job, but he wasn't. As soon as I realized this my heartbeat slowed and I asked him why he was there.


“You didn’t tell anyone,” he said.

“I know,” I replied.


“Because you would get kicked out of school and probably the Marines.”

“So, why do you care?”

“Because I respect the Marines and the crazy job they have to do.”

“Yeah, so?”

“Because I would rather have you on our side,” I said. 


With this he half smiled and said “Crazy fucking Jew” and left. He must have liked my answer, because I was no longer napalmed or hassled.


In the first three stories, shifting the persons fear redirected their energy into a more positive or livable direction, but in the last one my mere existence triggered this person's fear. In an instance like that, if you can create a fear shift it is best to just get out of the way.

Website Builder