But people won’t like you!

Lately, I’ve been intentionally doing things that involve pushing outside my comfort zone. More specifically, I’ve been taking actions that make me feel a little vulnerable. As some might say, I’ve been trying to just ‘put myself out there’ and see what happens. 

Why am I doing this? Well, the big answer is because I’ve realised that to consistently find opportunities to do the work I love, I’ll sometimes need to do things that feel a little bit scary or uncomfortable. 

The more immediate reason is that I’m running a kind of personal ‘experiment’ to see what reaction I get from my inner critic. Or to be more accurate, my inner critics (as in plural, because there are quite a few of them. Perhaps the subject of another post…)

Given this, it was perhaps inevitable that after hearing Andy Molinsky’s interview on HBR IdeaCast about his book “Reach”, I quickly found myself hovering over the ‘Buy now with 1-click’ button on Amazon. And then devouring the book in a single day. And then highlighting a whole bunch of bits. And then talking about it with my clients the next day.  

It isn’t often that I read a book about psychology or human behaviour that feels so immediately accessible and relevant – but this was one of them. As well as describing some of my own personal experiences, Molinsky’s descriptions and examples aligned closely with the recurring themes I see in my leadership development and coaching practice.

Now as a nerdy, research-driven psychologist I often spend whatever free time I have devouring podcasts and books about psychology, leadership, and behavioural change. This fuels my love of learning strength in a big way. But I also know that from a very practical standpoint, many of the leaders I work with find very little time to dig into these ideas.  

So here I am, summarising what I feel are the most valuable insights from the book “Reach: How to Build Confidence and Step Outside Your Comfort Zone”.   

There are Five Key Barriers to Stepping Outside your Comfort Zone (but I’m only going to talk about three of them!) 

One of the most helpful takeaways for me? That as humans, we all come up against the same set of predictably consistent ‘brick walls’ when trying something different. 

As I read about these in the book I found myself thinking “Yes! I’ve seen that one come up!” in relation to each and every one of them. The psychologist in me became excited about the opportunity this would provide to ‘normalise’ these thoughts and feelings for my clients. Because it must be ‘normal’ if someone wrote a whole book about it, right?

In particular, I felt the first three of the five key psychological barriers described in the book were extremely relevant to my work in leadership development. And of course, I could certainly relate to them personally as well…

The Authenticity Challenge

Have you ever tried something new and found yourself thinking “This just isn’t me!?” This is the core of the Authenticity challenge, which tends to arise in situations where whatever you’re trying to do just doesn’t feel right

For me, this challenge comes up whenever someone tells me that I need to get better at promoting myself as an ‘expert’ or using sales tactics. (Ugh. Just writing those words made me shudder). It just doesn’t feel like who I am.

For the leaders I work with, this often comes up in the context of pursuing a development goal that feels misaligned with their natural style and behavioural preferences. To give an example, extroverted leaders with a strong preference for ‘thinking out loud’ can find it difficult to use silence when trying to become a better listener.

The primary strategy for tackling this challenge made perfect sense when I reflected on my own experience. This involves finding ways to tweak and adjust your approach until the behaviour or action feels more natural and authentic. A more nuanced strategy involves adjusting the context and environment to achieve the same outcome. Molinsky labels this strategy Customisation, describing the essence of this strategy as “finding your own personal way of performing the task”.

The Likeability Challenge

This one jumped out as a BIG one for me at a personal level. As a psychologist with 15 years of experience in psychometric assessment, I have taken a LOT of personality tests. And they all largely say the same thing – I have a well-ingrained preference towards ‘preserving harmony’. Put differently, I don’t really like interpersonal conflict when it involves me, largely as a result of some very early experiences.

Now I’ve worked hard to overcome this in situations where I really need to get past the discomfort. And luckily for me, a couple of life’s ‘curve balls’ have provided the perfect opportunity for a bit of personal development in this space. The nature of my work can also make conflict inevitable at times. 

But I’m just as human as everybody else and as such, it’s very normal for my mind to say unhelpful things about what others might think of me. Going back to my current experiment of ‘putting myself out there’, here are some comments I often hear from my tribe of inner critics…

“But people won’t like you!”

“They’re gonna be really annoyed if you say no…!”

“Just do what they want. Don’t you want people to think you are nice?”

Leaders who need to conduct difficult conversations or make tough people-related decisions often face this challenge. Indeed, Molinksy shares examples of leaders who avoided these situations out of a fear that others would “hate” them.

So the Likeability challenge is about our enduring need to be liked, and the strong drive we have as humans to experience a sense of connection and belonging.

So how do you get around this? One of the key tactics covered in the book relates to the critical importance of developing a deep sense of conviction and purpose around the ‘why’ of your actions. This strategy is labelled Conviction. Molinsky puts it well when he says that basically, the “gain” needs to be worth the “pain”!

The Competence Challenge

As you might anticipate, this one crops up when you are worried about your capacity to actually succeed in whatever you’re trying to do differently.

And just to give it a bit more punch, you might genuinely believe that others can see your incompetence. The evidence that you don’t know what you are doing is obvious.

And once again, I’ve seen this come up numerous times in my work with leaders, especially those who are stepping into a leadership role for the first time. Suddenly they find themselves holding performance management conversations or handling a budget despite little in the way of experience or know-how.

As Molinsky highlights, this challenge is very commonly referred to as “Imposter Syndrome”, or the fear of being exposed as some kind of fraud. I’m pretty sure most of us are familiar with this one.

The strategies for tackling this challenge are a bit more complex – in part because a combination of tactics may be required to get over this very big hurdle. What is definitely worth noting is that entire books have been written on the subject of why waiting until you feel ‘confident’ is not a successful strategy for pushing outside your comfort zone (The Confidence Gap by Russ Harris is my go-to for clients). 

One point I do think Molinksy makes well throughout the entire book is how incredibly normal it is to experience the Competence challenge. After all, the very nature of pushing outside your comfort zone means you are doing something you are not familiar with! 

For me, this seemed like a book that had practical application not only for individuals who are trying to stretch and grow themselves, but also those who are trying to support others in this way (i.e. coaches, leaders, managers, and even educators). 

If you find yourself feeling the urge to follow the ‘Buy now with 1-click’ button on Amazon like I did, you can find it here

I hope you enjoyed this post! If you liked it, feel free to help me avoid facing directly into my own version of the Authenticity challenge (see above). Just press ‘like’ or share this article with people who might find it valuable. Thanks!

P.S. Do you see what I did there?!? 😂