Keep calm and freak out – How to deal with fear in the digital era

4 basics rules to reassure your users.

This article was published on Medium

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My husband called me the other day: “Irene, stay calm…” he told me. It took me around 2 seconds to have my bag ready and to leave my office with a checked heartbeat of 170.

I probably should specify that we have three small kids and that we are trying to find this parenting/working special balance.

So, my reaction was that of a worried mother. The phone call was unexpected and… why is there a reason to tell me to stay calm?

That reason you are hiding is already making me anxious.

Tell me the truth and tell it now!

The “keep calm” card.

When it comes to the things we really care (life, family, kids, money) we need to know what is going on.

And being afraid of loosing those things is a very natural behaviour.

The “keep calm” card is useless. Nobody can change or control this feelings anyway.

The only thing we are successful at when we tell somebody to “calm down” is to drive him crazy. We are grown up, not toddlers. My emotion have a reasons and they need to be there exactly for that reason.

Take me seriously!

Do not tell me what to do as if I would be a child and you are telling me to stop crying for some candies.

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We’re tired of being told to calm down, as if we chose to be anxious. If we could calm down, don’t you think we would?

We cannot tell somebody to stay calm. Could we do something to let somebody FEEL calm?

Let’s be empathic.

Tell the truth and understand your limits

The person in front of you is an adult.

The only way of letting him feel we believe in his adulthood is to treat him like one.

Photo by Joël de Vriend on Unsplash

Display all the facts straight away.

“Our kid knocked his head in the kindergarten and needs some stitches on his eyebrow” would have been the truth in this case.

I would have been scared to death. But those were the facts and I should find a way to cope with it.

I could have cried, I could have taken the car and run to the hospital, I could have told my husband to take care and I will try to come as soon as possible.

I would have known that it was not life threatening.

The decision how to react to those facts was up to me.

Fear is a process

We should know the facts and we should deal with them. But the decision must be ours.

We know that driving is dangerous, that computers get viruses, that smoking provokes cancer or that even when we are at home we have a lot of risks.

But we still find enough motivation to be here and to do it, no matter what.

Levels of fear and anxiety related to the unknown are very common.

Following the statistics provided by ourworldindata :

Globally an estimated 284 million people experienced an anxiety disorder in 2017, making it the most prevalent mental health or neurodevelopmental disorder.

Looking at those high numbers I believe that we are a very positive thinking society.

Being afraid and recognise danger is not a bad thing. Without the capacity of reflecting on the events that could happen as result of ours or others action we (humans) would not be here at all.

Fear is based on learning from the past, analyse events that already happened and to elaborate our own “escape plan”.

Fear is sometimes there, sometimes is a process that needs years to be learned.

On Psychology Today:

Some neuroscientists claim that humans are the most fearful creatures on the planet because of our ability to learn, think, and create fear in our minds.

This is the reason why little kids are crossing the streets without looking left or right. They still didn’t learn to analyse past experiences, even if from other people, and know that crossing the street without looking is dangerous.

Once we are old enough to understand the basics it is up to us to choose how to deal with the facts. There will be cases of kids running across the streets because they believe that they are faster than the cars and there will be those that will never cross the street without any help.

We are different.

We can show our kids the best way to do it, but the final decision is up to them.

What about the digital world?

We know that the user is afraid of giving personal information over the internet.

The common user is afraid of the internet and there are good reasons for it:

The internet is the unknown and full of bad stories.

Photo by Bram. on Unsplash

How can we deal with it?

Should we stop selling our product online or should we just believe and have fun until it lasts?

Of course we will still sell our product online ignoring the risks. But, how can we reassure our user that our website is secure?

1- Never tell them to stay calm or to trust you. Only the assumption that I should worry make me worry. So don’t.

2- Tell the truth: If the user is waiting you should tell them why are they waiting. If the search need time to find an answer through the database, if you need to verify the user’s data with the bank and back, whatever you are doing tell the user what is going on. Waiting times are extenuating.

3- Give the user enough motivation to take the chance and risk. Every user nowadays is aware that buying online has risks. You need to remind them every good thing in life is scary at the beginning. That it is normal to be afraid for the things they care. And that your product is worth. Jump and you will be rewarded.

4- Be funny. Making a situation funny is the best way to fight our fears. Is it not what happens also with Harry Potter and the Riddikulus?

Or this German bank advertisement:—–1ac4419d2d2———————-

The Commerzbank advertisement was turning to a joke the natural anxiety we feel regarding trusting somebody with our money.We are a bank. There are still some risks on giving us your money. But hey, we are German, and if there is something you could joke about the German it’s their disdain for surprises. And in the case of a bank this is just what I need. No surprises. No uncertainties. Just the truth. And you are a grown up. You are very aware of your risks. It is your decision to trust us, we are just giving you the right motivation to do so.

We do dangerous things everyday. From the moment we wake up till the moment we go to sleep. Risk belongs to life. And life is worth it.

I was lately looking Age of Ultron, Marvel. At the end it says referring to human kind:

“A thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts. It’s a privilege to be among them.”

Buying online is dangerous.

We know that.

Rapid fulfilment / wide offer / best prices / compare possibilities… all those, together with your great product, should give the user enough reasons to take the risk.