FUD’s Antidote.

Back in March, we mentioned our brain’s bias to interpreting information gaps negatively. The void is filled with our friend, FUD, fear, uncertainty, and doubt. What’s referred to as our negativity bias is a reflection of our brain’s biological tendency to regularly scan our environment looking for threats. Apparently, every five seconds our brain on some level is taking a look around for something to worry about. FUD is more than happy to jump to the forefront of our brain’s attention during these scans. Where imperfect information is the norm, our negativity bias breeds FUD. Our new world continues to offer uncertainty in ample portions.

In The Coaching Habit, author, Michael Stanier offers a useful acronym to help us combat FUD. TERA is the antidote. TERA stands for Tribe, Expectation, Rank, and Autonomy. TERA is the bright light that clears the fog of FUD.

Tribe relates to the feeling of being part of a group. Expectation involves an understanding about how things are going to work. Can we predict or know the steps to expect? We then want to know where we fit in the group. Are we equals or am I below you? Finally, autonomy involves the control we have over our actions and involvement. If each of these are relatively high, we feel better. When TERA is high, our brain has comfort. It feels safe and we feel safe.

Tribe. First and foremost, we want to know if we’re amongst friends. Are the people around us on our side? Are we on the same team? Are you with me? This is the first barrier we must overcome in our effort to have someone receive our message openly. If we’re trying to reduce FUD in others, we need to be on their side. We should work to reduce barriers between us. We can do this in several ways. Starting the conversation asking them how they are doing helps. Acknowledge how they might be feeling. Try to use the words “we” and “us” to show we’re on the same team. When listening, validate responses by verbal acknowledgement. You can do this, for example, by nodding your head or showing other physical signs of agreeing with them. Asking questions helps to engage them and make them a part of the conversation.

Two other methods to help others see us as being on their team include creating a common enemy and displaying shared symbols. Team jerseys are great connectors. Dressing like our peers does help. Significant differences between how we’re dressing leads to an increase in FUD. If we’re out in our blue jeans and golf shirt and come across others in hazmat suits, are we more likely to feel a bond between us or be nervous about our differences? We should be working to present ourselves such that we’re showing that we’re part of the same team where we can.

Once we have overcome the hurdle of feeling like we’re on the same side, our brains then want to know what to expect. Expectations is the second step in our TERA process of combatting FUD. We hate uncertainty. We hate not knowing where we’re going or how long a problem is going to endure. We want to know what will happen next. We all feel this on some level. To help others reduce their sense of FUD, we want to work to help them see the future. Our job is to shine a light on the path ahead of us.

You may notice at the outset of articles online is sometimes presented “time to read”. The author is managing our expectations and setting the stage. If we don’t have the time or interest to invest 15 minutes reading an article, we now know prior to starting the read that certain articles may not be for us. If you’re presenting, try to let your listeners know what’s coming. For example, we’ll be spending the next five minutes talking about last month’s sales performance. We can also let others know how many things we will be discussing. Put people at ease by telling them the process they will be experiencing. Nurses can help patients as they await surgery understand an overview of the steps they will be subject to as well as the timing associated. First, we’ll provide you with hospital garb that you’ll be wearing for the balance of your stay. Your other belongings will be safely stored over here. Then we’ll be weighing you in order that the doctors can ensure the proper dosage of medications are prepared for you. We’ll then set you up in your area where you will be before and after your surgery. Your doctor will meet you to review your procedure within the next hour. And, so on.

If we don’t know the exact steps through which we’ll be proceeding, it helps to let others know this. We can’t show what we don’t know. It’s tough to provide directions when we don’t know the destination. We are better able to handle uncertainty if we expect uncertainty. We can help each other manage this uncertainty by scheduling check in points. We’re heading down this road and we’ll meet again in a week to review how things are going. Whatever uncertainty awaits us, at least we know we’ll be able to regroup and revisit our progress or lack thereof at an identifiable point.

If we have comfort that we belong in this group and have a sense of where we’re headed, we then assess our ranking within the group. We feel better when we’re amongst equals or have a little higher status in the group. The lower we view our ranking within a group, the more anxiety we feel. Our brains are asking “am I more or less important than those around me?” If we feel less important, we’re less happy and nervous. To reduce the FUD of others, our goal is to raise them up and help them to feel important.

We can do this by using questions to seek their input. Engaging others communicates that their opinion matters, their contributions matter, we want to hear from you. Following up contributions of others with a question like “and what else?” further fuels their commitment to the effort by keeping the spotlight on them. Leaders can draw others towards them using several tactics. Leaders can raise others up by acknowledging their contributions and expertise using phrases like, “you have more experience dealing directly with customers questions and are best placed to understand….” Separately, leaders can qualify their own contributions with statements like, “Let’s consider trying x” or “I suggest we try y” or “My best guess to move forward is z”.

Subtle actions like removing formal attire like a suit jacket or tie or rolling up one’s sleeves are ways to reduce one’s authority and work to demonstrate we’re all in this together with our troops. Where we locate ourselves physically relative to our team is also an indicator. If we tower above them on a stage or behind a podium, we’re creating separation. Sitting at the table together as equals helps all feel closer.

The final, fourth item in TERA is autonomy. If we feel like we’re in control, we’re more likely to be engaged. Moreover, we feel some sense of comfort when we have autonomy over our actions and participation. We can help others feel this by giving them even the smallest of choices. Additionally, asking them questions about their thoughts on the path forward can draw them in to contributing. We’re trying to avoid writing down the task or to do list ourselves. We want others to own their contributions to the process.

The ability to reduce FUD in our constituents has become the core competency to the COVID 19 crisis. This is a crucial function for leaders today. One that is doing a decent job of this is the Prime Minister of New Zealand. I know nothing about her politics, her government’s approach, or their country’s results. However, as a example of incorporating the TERA framework into messaging with her citizens, she’s doing a sound job.

Jacinda Arden’s education background is in communications. Even before she utters a word to her constituents, she, her cabinet, and top public servants all took a pay cut. A substantial one. 20%. She has demonstrated with her actions an effort to show herself as part of the tribe and being on similar rank to her listeners before saying anything. Her tool of choice of talking to her people is using Facebook Live chats. She doesn’t stroll out to cameras coiffed and styled in a suit, she sits on a couch in her living room in casual clothes while looking fatigued at the end of another long day and having just put a young child to bed. Before she has said a word, she’s moved mountains on both Tribe and Rank. Her citizens watching her are doing, looking, and feeling the same.

Arden then walks citizens through what they may be experiencing. She details not just policies the will be pursuing, but why. This is why citizens need to contribute. She helps citizens recognize that the efforts will be burdensome and met without any knowledge of whether they are working for some time (10 days). Both expectations and autonomy are included in the messaging. Viewers get some sense of what they will expect in uncertain circumstances and are helped to see how their role will contribute favorably to outcomes. Arden’s communications serve to illustrate the TERA framework and sentiment suggests that they are going a long way to reducing FUD in her country.

TERA offers us a practical tool we can work to apply with our colleagues and customers to combat FUD in our work days. The following is an example of how it could be used to manage or guide a potential customer communication.

Dear ……,

For many of us, our worlds have been turned upside down. We’re scrambling to work from home, juggling childcare responsibilities, and worried about our immediate financial circumstances. At XYZ Insurance, we recognize that any number of challenges may be consuming your energies presently. During these troubled times, we want to reassure you that we’re here for you. We appreciate that thinking about your insurance needs may be the furthest thing from your mind. Perhaps, you’ve heard a clip or seen a headline that mentioned something about insurance in recent weeks, but just haven’t had an opportunity to dive deeper.

As we move forward together, here’s what you can expect from XYZ Insurance. We’re monitoring the insurance marketplace for you. As we receive updates from our markets as to what changes may become available, we’ll be in touch to let you know what they are and how they may apply to your insurance requirements. Rest assured, your current coverage continues without issue. Independent from any changes that may be coming as a result of the COVID Pandemic, we will be in touch with you well in advance of your policy’s renewal date to discuss options. Presently, no action is required from you. However, if you would like to discuss your insurance needs or have specific concerns or questions, please feel free to contact your Insurance Advisor, Joey Broker, at 333-4444. Although, unfortunately, our offices remain closed to customer visits presently, we remain available via phone and email during our regular business hours. Finally, if you’re interested in reading more insurance related news, here is a link to a recent article that we hope you find informative.

UPDATED: What emergency relief will insurers offer customers? Here’s what they told us

Thanks for your continued support. We look forward to being in touch,


Bobby Broker, XYZ Insurance.

The first paragraph is an attempt to connect with the customer on Tribe as well as Rank. The second seeks to set out what the customer can expect, and finally, a couple of options are provided to give the customer some power over what they can do, autonomy. We hope the TERA framework is a constructive tool for you to assist in managing conversations with colleagues and customers going forward. As basic as this sample note may be and even though we’re a number of weeks into this new world, it’s not too late to send. For what it’s worth, we purchase ten plus policies as both personal and business insureds through several brokerages and have received no such communication. There are plenty of insureds that would be happy to have some reassurance provided to them still.