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How Leaders Can Cut Anxiety In Half


Anxiety communicates to us that something isn’t right. Our emotional brain, operating as our guidance system to keep us safe, becomes aroused when we experience something that feels uncomfortable. This can be helpful if we tune in to the feelings and act to reduce the emotional arousal. But what about the majority of people who don’t recognise those early warning signs, or plough on regardless?


When people are anxious they can come across as aggressive or over-confident in their attempt at denial. Yet underneath this surface presentation, the tip of the iceberg, there can be hidden feelings of insecurity; of being scared. It is important for leaders to identify anxiety and to be understanding and accepting of it as a normal human response to that person’s perceptions of their environment.


Leaders have the ability to increase or reduce anxiety depending on their style of interaction. Frustration or anger at a colleague who appears to be anxious, which is more often the case when the manager cannot empathise with the employee, can make the situation worse. However, helping people to recognise their strengths and to feel a sense of control is empowering and can help manage anxiety. This can come about as simply as helping people to feel less overwhelmed by helping them to break challenges into small, achievable chunks, and encouraging them to take one step at a time.


Mark Murphy, writing for Forbes, suggests using the four-step Cutting in Half technique with employees to turn overwhelming work projects into smaller projects, to reduce anxiety:

  • Step 1: Ask employees: What do you have to accomplish in 6 months (or whatever time frame is appropriate) in order to stay on track of _______ (a bigger goal)?
  • Step 2: Next ask: What do you have to accomplish in the next month to reach that 6-month mark
  • Step 3: Next ask: What do you have to accomplish in the next week to reach that month mark
  • Step 4: Finish by asking: What do you need to accomplish today to stay on track of it all and make today a successful day?


Walking employees through the Cutting In Half technique, or better still, teaching them to employ it for themselves, helps make overwhelming situations feel safe and manageable. Empower your teams to feel in control.


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