The Faceoff Between Curiosity And Fear

Have you ever wondered what drives people to consider change?  In the world of sales, we not only wonder about it, we’re consumed with it.  It’s what drives people to take action, often before a salesperson is even present. It can represent a real struggle.   Like two boxers in the ring, you have two contrasting feelings fighting it out with each other. In one corner, fear.  Fear is a tough, and worthy opponent.  Fear has the ability to stall, delay, and outright avoid any decisions that require risk or uncertainty.

In the other corner stands curiosity.  Curiosity is a strong and admirable challenger to fear.  Curiosity has the ability to peck away at fear with promises of reward, improvement, and a break from the status quo.

This battle rages on in so much that we do.  I’ve seen it from a number of different angles, but perhaps never as clearly as the one and only time I went skydiving.  To this day, I still remember something the instructor said to me.  He said that most people who think about skydiving never act on the idea because they are faced with 51% fear and 49% curiosity.  He went on to tell us that the only reason we were there to skydive was because we were motivated by 51% curiosity and 49% fear.  As I stood and listened, that number sounded just about right for me, and for those around me.  Our motivation to step past our fear was razor thin. In fact, it was so thin that not everyone who started in that class made it onto the airplane to actually jump.

The truth is, I didn’t just show up one day to take that jump.  It took me several years to move past my fear and to let curiosity take the lead.  For those previous years, I was motivated by 51% fear and 49% curiosity.  I thought about it a lot but I couldn’t get past my fear. I was struggling with that decision, and it took me a long time to finally shift to 51% curiosity and 49% fear.  When it did shift, I signed up to take that jump!

We all appreciate when someone comes to us looking for help, and appears ready for change, but did you ever stop and think about how razor thin his or her decision might be?  Remember, not everyone who shows up to skydive actually gets on the plane.  That’s why we can never take it for granted that someone who has the initiative to make a change, is actually committed to making that change.  So, what do we do about it?

  1. Drill Down Deeper. When someone comes looking for a change, he or she is searching for answers.  Oddly enough, the worst thing you can do is actually offer a solution when curiosity has momentarily gained the advantage.  (Even I had to read that last sentence twice!)  Considering that decision might be hanging by a thread, who’s to say that the least little issue, such as price, or the lack of a perfect solution, might disrupt that delicate balance between curiosity and fear?  Surprisingly, the move is, and must be, a deeper look at the problem this person has come to you to help solve.  Good salespeople will do this to help those who are ruled by fear, and have not made a decision for change.  Great salespeople will do this to help prospects who have initiated change, but are often teetering on that line between curiosity and fear.
  2. Confirm It. Just because someone shows up looking for solutions, it doesn’t mean he or she is fully dedicated to change.  It means curiosity has overtaken fear… but by how much?  The closer a person gets to a firm commitment, the harder fear of change punches back.  If you’ve asked the tougher question as suggested above, the most important move you can make is to tighten that commitment.  Once you’ve fully studied the problem that’s looking to be solved, consider asking something like this: “Are you committed to making this change?”  It’s the most valuable trial close I ever learned, and it takes the guesswork out of where someone is in his or her decision-making process.  It also makes it more difficult for fear to punch back.

“You don’t battle fear of change through well-articulated solutions; you battle fear of change through well thought-out questions.”

When your job it is to create change in someone, I’m not averse to having others show up telling me they’re ready for a solution.  I’m opposed to immediately offering a solution, because I have a healthy respect for my opponent; fear of change.  Curiosity can help, but if you want to make sure those you speak with actually commit to the change they seek, ask a few more questions, and gain a real commitment.  Just like my decision to finally take that jump from the sky, we should respect the fine line between curiosity and fear in any decision-making situation.  That way, we don’t just show teach those who have shown up how to jump, we make sure they get on that plane and do it!

Related: Beware of The “What If’s”