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public_speakingBrett is over the moon. He has just received a long-awaited promotion and with it the opportunity to present to his firm’s key clients. But his excitement is short-lived: In almost every client meeting, he freezes up and stumbles over the material despite the fact that he knows it well. Soon, he’s not only wishing he was still in his old position, he’s worried about his future with the firm.

What happened? In short, Brett’s brain “learned” in childhood that shrinking back from center stage would protect him from ridicule. Now, decades later, his neural wiring is still causing him to choose the “safe” route—and, ironically, sabotaging his success.

According to Christine Comaford, author of the new book SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together, our hypothetical friend is no anomaly. You too are likely a “Brett.” Maybe you don’t choke in the spotlight, but more often than you realize, subconscious reactions to your surroundings trigger debilitating responses.

“You can learn to identify these scenarios and defuse them,” says Comaford. “But the first step is understanding why you do the things you do. Basically, you’re acting in ways that feel ‘safe’ at the moment but that cripple you in the long run.”

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