Yesterday, I spent an hour wrestling with cognitive dissonance.
One internal voice – let’s call her Sally – said, “Dyana Valentine is not that great.” The other – Bianca – said, “Dyana Valentine is pretty amazing, actually, I can see why she gets so much praise.”
Dyana and I had just spent twenty minutes chatting, as a result of me finally getting past the someday-I-would-like-to-chat-with-these-amazing-people-I-haven’t-talked-to-except-in-my-twitter-stream inertia, and starting to Make The Ask.
Bianca kept bringing up these delightful pings that were sparking in my head after Dyana had said something unexpected and insightful. Sally mostly just rumbled and muttered words like “disappointed”.
Why was Sally trying to convince me that Dyana wasn’t as good as she was supposed to be? I asked myself. The answer floated down: Because you weren’t as good as you were supposed to be, and it’s less painful to blame someone else. It’s called transference, or something.
At this point Sally and Bianca stopped arguing and put on deerstalker hats. “What do you mean when you say that you weren’t as good as you were supposed to be?”
“I… well, I said some dumb things. Of the kind that I winced about after, but she probably doesn’t even remember. I came across as unprepared, even though I had done some prep. And I was just kind of… flat. Not my bestest, light-yet-intense self.”
“Hmmm…” mused Sally. “Let’s find the culprit, shall we?”
Suspect number 1: The internet connection
Bianca noted that the connection was a smidgen laggy at my end, which resulted in not being able to hear some words and phrases. “Sometimes, you took too long to respond because you had to piece together what she said with the gaps.”
True, plus it was video instead of just audio, which I am never as comfortable with. But I don’t think that was all of it. I’ve been flat-out amazing over much dodgier connections than this.
Conclusion: accessory before the fact, but not the culprit.
Suspect number 2: Caffeine
Sally said, “I have it! We quit caffeinated soft drink on the weekend, after a decade of too much pseudo-sugar. This is day three without caffeine. Case closed!”
True, but I wasn’t having the big-time withdrawal symptoms. I was a little tired, and my concentration was definitely less than optimal, but I don’t think that was all of it. I’ve been fine during calls when I was on day four of a five-day flu. And besides, I’d done a client call an hour beforehand and that went pretty well.
Conclusion: accessory before the fact, but not the culprit.
Suspect number 3: Status anxiety
“Wait,” Sally said. “Hold up a second. Do you think we actually got a small dose of status anxiety? It’s been a while since that happened, but it could fit.”
Bianca and I pondered. I said, “Well, we do see Dyana as more important than us.”
“Did you just say more important?”
“Holy crispy crap, I did. I meant her business is more well-known and she charges more than we do.”
“Dude, we know what you really meant. You meant that she is more important than you. Wow, we totally have a bit of compare-and-feel-tiny going on.”
Bianca chipped in. “Admit it. We have been feeling pretty small lately. Look at all those top-minds-in-the-industry collaborations that have been going on and we haven’t been invited to be part of any of them. In a few ways we are actually smaller than we were a couple of years ago. No wonder we’re feeling insecure.”
“Right. And remember that neuroscience book we just read? That kind of threatened feeling plays all kind of merry hell with your limbic system, and completely messes with your ability to think lucidly, make connections, retrieve information – all the things you rely on to be your usual insightful self.”
Sally made a skeptical face.
“It must have been a subtle-ass amount we’re talking here. I mean, you didn’t pick up on it, and neither did Dyana. And both of you are good at that kinda thing.”
“That’s the funny part. It really doesn’t take much feeling of threat, like threat of rejection, to get the system running. It uses the same wiring as physical threat, and how long does it take for us to chill after hearing a strange noise in the night?”
“So it was small enough that you couldn’t notice it and fix it, and subtle enough that Dyana couldn’t notice it and assist, but big enough to drop you from 100% awesome to 85% awesome?”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
“That makes sense. It’s funny, I can’t think of the last time it’s gotten in the way.”
“Well, some of that is – problematically – due to how safe we’ve been playing it for awhile. But the rest of it is probably due to it being too subtle for us to use our usual response systems.”
“Ah well. It wasn’t that bad.”
“Nope, I learned a lot. That Dyana is pretty amazing, actually, I can see why she gets so much praise.”
At this point, Sally conceded defeat and agreed with Bianca and me.
So what do I normally do when I’m feeling status anxiety?
Any mix of the following:
- take a few deep breaths
- tell myself it’s normal to be nervous when talking to someone new
- remind myself that they’re a human being, just like me
- tell them, “It’s funny, but I’m feeling nervous talking to you.”
- find something to laugh at
- focus on making the other person comfortable and relaxed
- review my words before I say them
- get them talking
- ask a question
- make sure my shoulders are low and back
Usually that makes it go away well enough or long enough for me to build a genuine connection to the person I’m talking to.
And what do I normally do when I get the impression that someone is feeling that way toward me?
I deliberately drop my status.
I do this a lot anyway, as evidenced by this long-ass article about my brain and its wacky ways. Sometimes I still need to pull out the pants-on-one-leg-at-a-time moves to help whoever I’m talking to chill out.
Also, I make sure I’m staying calm, ‘cos nervousness is infectious and then everything goes to hell.
Right now I need to give myself applause, and a stern look.
Because this kind of will-she-like-me-I’ll-die-if-she-doesn’t-like-me fear used to kick my ass, but has not been a part of my life for some time. And there are two big reasons for this, one good and one very worrying.
Good: look at all the tools I have to deal with this when it arises! Booyah!
Bad: look at the tiny safe nest I have built for myself where I am not required to take any risks! Crap!
So there will be more conversations with people my brain has decided are More Important Than Me, a thorough exploration of that concept with my coach, and more articles like this one.
Has status anxiety caused you biz problems? Any tips for rocking on anyway? Share them in the comments!