There’s one statement we at BraveShift hardly hear spoken in workplaces. And yet it echoes off the halls. Silent and yet screamed, absent and yet everywhere, it’s as simple and familiar as it is taboo. A phrase we can probably remember saying when we were children – when Dad turned the lights off at bedtime, when Mom prepared us for the first day of school. But for most of us, as the years passed, the words stopped passing from our lips.
That phrase is “I’m afraid”. I. Am. Afraid. Or how about it’s simpler, homier cousin: “I’m scared”.
Think about how many times you’ve felt those words: alone at your desk or driving home at night. I’m afraid. Then try to count how many times you’ve said those same words to your team mates or boss: I am afraid. Some can count on one hand, for others it’s never.
Fear is an emotion as universal as happiness, and yet it’s like a ghost in most workplaces, haunting everyone from new hires to CEOs. A universal leveler, fear is an integral part of being alive. And yet in most workplaces, fear has no rightful place. And yet it’s all over the place.
Fear that we can’t meet expectations. That we won’t perform. Fear that we won’t be accepted, supported or promoted. That disabling fear that we’re just not good enough.
The simple reality is that we associate fear with weakness. And nobody wants to be seen as weak at work.
In fact, fear is the number one reason we put on those workplace masks. We tell ourselves that if we hide behind “Seasoned Director” or “Workaholic Associate” the fears might actually go away. But away from the light, our fears grow outsized and scary. Instead of going away they loom larger. And we’re left to wonder why life behind the mask is so miserable.
But what might happen if we acknowledged that fear has a rightful place in the spectrum of human emotion – and particularly at work where we’re challenged, learning, trying to keep up? What if we started to see fear as a strength rather than a weakness? As the essential starting point for real growth and innovation.
Fear in the workplace…can compel us to be the absolute best version of ourselves.
At BraveShift we believe that leveraging our fear is critical to bringing our full humanity into our work, to making sure that the best version of ourselves is sitting behind the desk. We see fear as a resource in the process of managing ourselves as human resources. And we break fear management down into these four steps:
Switch on your fear awareness. Become acutely aware of how you react when scared: do you get aggressive or go quiet? Overcompensate or avoid. How do your body and mind react when scared? Awareness isn’t about making fear go away, it’s reminding ourselves that we have choices in how we react to it. That we can rewire our patterns of behavior to manage our fear more productively.
Then once you know how you respond to fear, figure out what causes that reaction. Create your own private list of quirky phobias. Forget about fear of spiders and confined spaces: how about fear of checking in with your boss, fear of offering up new ideas, fear of providing critical feedback, fear of reporting your decisions to the team. If you name what triggers and tests you, it might not have as strong a hold on you.
Then tell yourself that it’s absolutely fine to feel these fears. That you wouldn’t be alive if you weren’t afraid of something, and you wouldn’t be good at your job if you didn’t worry about whether you were good enough at it. In other words, flip your fear script: fear isn’t your enemy; it’s just an integral part of you. Whoever you are.
Now challenge those fears. Notice we’re not urging you to conquer them, because that sets up a fight. And we see this as a game more than a fight. Think of it as Truth or Dare. Being truthful about what scares you and daring yourself to respond to it differently. Small adjustments to your reactions, micro experiments in risk taking. Creating hairline fractures to a lifetime of patterns. That’s all it takes to start neutralizing fear’s threat to your workplace performance and get it to work on your behalf.
Fear in the workplace doesn’t have to distract or impede us. Not at all. If we leverage it rather than merely managing it, it can compel us to be the absolutely best version of ourselves. So if you want to be creative, disruptive, innovative or inspirational, be afraid. Be very afraid.
Written by Jillian Reilly