Fear of the Ball

Baseball in brown leather baseball gloveSpring is now here and many of us may find ourselves spending quite a bit of our evening and weekend time watching our kids play baseball, softball and lacrosse, just to name a few. Those three I mention because I have had kids in each of them—and needless to say there was plenty to keep me busy in the off-hours.

It reminds me of an indicent from a few years back. Early in one season, I witnessed not one, but two accidents in which a player was hit with the ball. One was a pitcher (softball); the other was a batter (baseball). In both cases, the pitcher and the batter appeared to be hit square on the nose.

With the the batter (I’ll call him James) there was blood; no doubt there was pain; and yes, the nose was broken. But James was otherwise okay and was back in action in a few weeks.

Which begged the question among some of us parents as we looked on: How might such a stinging injury impact James’ game when he gets back up to plate, or out in the field? Hopefully for him, it won’t. But when one “gets their nose bloodied,” either literally or figuratively, it can put a damper on performance, and the drive to get out and take a swing.

All of us can relate to this on one level or another. I know that I can. The world is a rough place. I know working with younger players on my daughter’s softball team that a lot of kids at an early age have fear of the ball. They see the ball coming their way, stretch out their arms to catch it, while at the same time moving the rest of their body out of the ball’s trajectory! It’s an amusing sight…at first.

Recently a friend gave me a book called Getting Naked: A Business Fable About Shedding The Three Fears That Sabotage Client Loyalty by Patrick Lencioni. It was an enjoyable and easy read—indeed I finished it in two days. The story was about Jack, a management consultant being thrust into an entirely new culture of other consultants who build relationships with their prospects and clients not through selling, but through serving. This was how they built trust—and they were not afraid to get their nose bloodied in the process. (Note: This was also a consulting firm that would repeatedly outdo Jack when it came to landing new business.)

Part of this new paradigm (well, it was new to Jack) involved opening up to your prospects and clients—by being willing to make yourself vulnerable. You didn’t pretend to know all the answers, and you dared to ask what others might consider stupid questions. Getting back to our primary metaphor, it involved staying in the ball’s path, and either catching it or hitting it—or whatever else fate may bring you.

Vulnerability is not a position of comfort. And yet I contend that it can be far less stressful! While most of us as adults likely would not be afraid to step up to the plate and take a swing at a ball flying at us at 75 miles per hour, how many of us put up a front with people whom we deeply wish to impress? How often do we, when wanting to forge a new relationship with another person, find ourselves pretending to be someone that is, dare I say it, more than who we truly are? Now that’s stressful!

I will admit that as a writer, this is something that I have struggled with. Several times per month, I endeavor to share stories and perspectives about prospecting and relationship building. Yet I am hindered by my own experience, which itself is still quite limited! That’s why I also enjoy meeting with and interviewing other influential business role models and leaders—I get to learn from them and thus so do you.

So, next time you are engaging a new potential relationship, ask yourself: “Am I pretending to be someone that I am not?”

If your honest answer is yes, then step back. You may just have fear of the ball. Relax, and be yourself. Let go of that stress and pressure. The reality is that most of us can tell when another person is putting up a front—so it is the same with others when we do.

And what happens if you get your nose bloodied in front of another person you wanted to impress? Odds are, she will look at you and respond, “So that happens to you, too?”

Now there’s the start of a conversation.

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