How to spot fear and anger in others

April 8, 2022

If you can spot fear and anger in others, this will result in efficiency and great decision-making from the people around you. Learn how you can spot fear and anger in your organization.

The best managers, whether a CEO or coach, are able to consistently identify fear and anger in others. It builds trust and creates valuable insights.

People get the greatest insights when they can ...

  1. Put fear and anger aside (how to shift out of it)
  2. Choose their thoughts and actions from a place of possibility

If you can spot fear and anger in others, this will result in efficiency and great decision-making from the people around you.

For example, once I called out a client’s fear that is telling him if he hires more, he’ll become a bad CEO who doesn’t do anything. As soon as he heard that, he pointed out that his fear doesn’t make any sense. He successfully shifted out of it and saw all the benefits in hiring. Then decided in 5 minutes he should move the hiring timeline even closer.

If you have a whole executive team who is willing to call you out on your fear and anger, you will course correct much quicker, sometimes multiple times a day.

So, how do you do that?

Part 1:  Framing (fear and anger experiment)

The first thing to note is that you’ll feel uncomfortable pointing out fear and anger in others. We all have our own fears about being wrong, offending, or triggering someone.

My suggestion is to create a fear and anger experiment.

As the CEO, lead by example by being the one to propose this experiment. I recommend you start with your executive team. Share the “Fear and anger give bad advice” write-up with the team. Make sure the principle resonates with each person on the team — if it does not, this experiment will not work. Come to a collective agreement that radical candor is crucial in the company because it leads to more efficient communication and clearer thought processes.

If everyone agrees, you can start this experiment for one week:

  • The executive team will surface any perceived fear or anger in the CEO and their peers. They will use the phrase, “I perceive you to be in anger.” This is because it’s the hardest to spot and announce fear or anger in the co-founders, and easier to do with peers.
  • Each person will be encouraged to do this at least once in public or private settings, as soon as the emotions occur.
  • Encouraging the executive team to name the emotions is more important than getting it right. The purpose of this exercise is to build a foundation of trust and transparency. The pressure of getting it right will be counter-productive.

What do you do after someone tells you “I perceive you to be in anger (or fear)”?

  • First, take a few deep breaths. Scan your body internally. Is there any sensation that is reminiscent of fear or anger? If yes, please say “Thank you” and remove yourself from the meeting until you are able to shift out of fear or anger.
  • If you feel defensive, it’s likely that it’s a  “Yes”, and it’ll benefit everyone if you step out until you no longer feel defensive.
  • If your internal scan does not reveal anything reminiscent of fear or anger, please say “Thank you.  I don’t sense anything internally.” You can then ask the others present in the meeting if they perceive the same. We are often the worst in perceiving those emotions in ourselves.

At the end of the week, ask each of the executive team members to write down their feedback and observations, along with whether they wish to continue doing so or not.

Part 2:  Spotting fear and anger

Everyone shows fear and anger differently. Most of the time, it’ll show up more subtly than an outburst.

Here are some things to watch out for:

  1. Silence — If someone who’s usually excited to participate in certain topics goes quiet all of a sudden, it’s possible that they’re in fear or anger. Once one feels triggered by a conversation, their natural tendency can be to suppress and process it. When they do that, it takes mental and emotional energy, so they will not be able to verbally participate again.
  2. Speaking in a way that doesn’t reflect the person’s achievements — When an executive team member asks you a question or makes a statement that doesn’t reflect their or their team’s achievements, they are most likely in fear. For example, your Head of Sales who’s been stellar asks, “What happens if we don’t hit our forecasts?”   It’s a cue to say, “I perceive you to be in fear.”
  3. Interruptions — Interruptions may be great bets to anger arising in a meeting. The interrupter may be frustrated to express themselves. The person who is interrupted may then get triggered and be in anger as well.
  4. A speaking style that strays from baseline: faster, slower, higher, or lower — Hopefully, you are used to your team’s usual way of speaking. If they suddenly start talking in a way that doesn’t resemble their baseline, they may be feeling fear or anger. For example, a fast talker starts speaking slowly, or someone who normally speaks with a low tone starts to speak at an even lower tone.
  5. Body language that strays from baseline: pursing lips, holding their chin, looking away, frowning, etc. — In watching others’ body language, also pay attention to what strays from their normal posture or facial expression.
  6. Your own fear or anger arising — Our bodies and emotions often react faster than our minds. If you’re observing an exchange, and you feel your own fear or anger arising... Chances are, one of the people engaging in the conversation is feeling fear or anger. So, it’ll be beneficial if you know your own signs of fear and anger. One way to do so is through consistent meditation practice, another way is through an observation technique of watching emotions in your body.

We all feel fear or anger daily. Without this practice of spotting it in others, coworkers process and identify emotions on their own. I believe this practice will make your team happier, closer, and more efficient.

Linked Resources

Special shoutout to the Mochary Method coaching team (Matt, Regina, Alexis, Trishia, and Nate) - we piloted the fear and anger experiment with great results. We felt closer as a team, and all voted to continue this experiment. They all contributed to the insights of this write-up.

About the Author

Sabrina Wang is a CEO coach for extraordinary leaders of Series A to Unicorn companies. She is a founder, CEO, and operator who brings real-life experiences in building products and scaling revenue into her coaching. She is a writer, creative, and trained meditation teacher.

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About Sabrina Wang

Sabrina is the CEO of Evergrowth Coaching for extraordinary leaders of Series A to Unicorn companies. She has quickly grown Evergrowth to over $500K ARR in sales in under 6 months of conception. Evergrowth partners with CEOs, founders, and C-suite execs of best-in-class tech companies. Her clients include CEOs and co-founders of Wayflyer, Synchron, Opswerks, Code States, Tread.io, Tribe, RevenueCat, and more. Sabrina has also coached partners of YC Continuity, General Catalyst, Left Lane Capital, and Innovation Endeavors.

Before starting Evergrowth, Sabrina was the Head of Coaching at Mochary Method, started by Matt Mochary (top CEO coach for Reddit, OpenAI, Coinbase....). She hired, trained, and managed a team that sold 0 to 3m ARR in under a year. Sabrina is well-versed in the engineering, product, and design side of building a tech company. At Headspace for Work, she worked in product management building B2B SaaS products that reached 1 million users.

Sabrina is driven by her mission to help people achieve high performance and find greater impact. Her coaching is heavily influenced by her mindfulness meditation journey, studying Reiki, energy work, and other spiritual modalities.

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