When Fear Strikes…
For the last several months I’ve been toying with an idea. A big idea. One that pulls me from the familiar and forces me to build new networks, dapple in new technology, and envision a unique business model. I was joy-riding the wave of this idea until fear struck.
Fear choked my energy. It was like a floodgate lowered keeping insights from flowing. Slowly the idea started fading.
“It’s not that great of a concept.” “Someone else is better suited to do this.” “It’s impossible.” “This is a young person’s business.” All the justifications and disempowering beliefs tumbled in. I found myself slowly retreating.
What does fear do to you?
Does it cause self-doubt or create blind spots? Does it lead to denial, justification or blame? Perhaps it serves you as fuel to push through obstacles.
Regardless of how you respond to fear, it’s something that must be managed both personally and professionally. We must cultivate a healthy relationship with fear. It can be a trusted warning sign. An indicator to assess, look from all directions and dig deep for the right direction. But when fear moves from a healthy reservation to chief perspective it can paralyze us, or even worse, disengage us from the important work we want to do.
Unfortunately, underlying fears infiltrate many work environments. Employees wonder if their jobs will eventually be replaced by artificial intelligence. Business owners worry that products may become obsolete due to rapidly evolving technologies. And while the overall economy has rebounded, the impact of the Great Recession still lingers.
Employees are expected to show up to work fully engaged, feeling purposeful and committed to the organization. They are expected to add value by bringing their best ideas to the table. Yet nothing chokes innovation and engagement like fear.
So what can you do to manage fear in the workplace?
- Build a culture of connection. When people know and like their colleagues, trust ensues. Take time to see people for who they are, beyond what they do at work, to help break down the detrimental effects of fear.
- Value ideas. Create simple systems to acknowledge workers’ engagement and strides for innovation.
- Create time and space for employees to engage in innovative thinking. When people are engaged in problem solving and solutions, their fears often recede.
- Work towards a healthy framework for success. Knowing that not every initiative and project will succeed, acknowledge setbacks in ways that promote learning, while generating optimism for future opportunities and risks.
- Talk about fears. Make time for employees to share what they are experiencing (both within and outside of management’s control) and how these issues relate to the company’s culture.
On a personal level, what can you do when fear strikes?
- Learn to see it’s warning signs. Look for patterns when fear arises. Does it strike just before you make a big commitment? Does it hit when you hear one specific person’s feedback? When you see yourself moving into a fearful mode, begin asking questions. Take time to deconstruct the fear so that it can serve you, not paralyze you.
- Reconnect with your idea. Spend time cultivating it – by taking a walk, journaling, sharing it with a trusted friend – and then observe what happens to the fear. Often it will subside as you reengage and move back to the sidelines in its role of a ‘healthy fear’.
- Remind yourself that fear is normal. If you are entertaining a bad idea, that can be revealed through conscious, active examination.
In the end, fear isn’t something we can eradicate or absolutely control, but it is a phenomena, that if managed well, can positively impact engagement, innovation productivity.