Fear is one of the six basic emotions together with happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, and disgust. And, most of the time, it is perceived as a negative emotion. Though, fear serves as a catalyst when appearing in a balanced way, since it makes us more alert, more vigilant. The reason why it is often considered negative, it is because we usually notice it when it becomes overwhelming; that is, when it compromises someone’s well-being.

Since fear has a negative connotation, when it appears, our first instinct is unfortunately to deny it in order to maintain a positive image and to seem invincible. But, it is a mistake; suppressing one’s fears only reinforces stress.

What kind of fear are we talking about exactly? Not the primal (or animal) fear that reaches panic in case of danger, as Olivier Schmouker indicated in his article (French only), but rather a fear that arises at the workplace when there is actually no real danger. However, if there is no real danger, what are we afraid of? Here are a few examples:

  • fear of change
  • fear of workload
  • fear of appearing incompetent or disappointing the team
  • fear of being judged by others
  • fear of hierarchical pressure (bosses).

All these fears can be classified into three types:

  • fear of social judgment (afraid of disappointing one’s team, afraid to express oneself, afraid to voice one’s opinion)
  • fear of failure (afraid to appear incompetent, afraid to make mistakes)
  • fear of uncertainty (afraid of change, afraid to lose control, afraid to lose one’s job).

Do you feel some of these fears? Probably, and rest assured that you are not the only one. In fact, one in two Quebecers admits being stressed to go to work and two in three French individuals have the same feeling.

How do we overcome these fears? There are several tools and mechanisms to help us control our work-related fears. For instance, it is possible to overcome our fear of social judgment or failure by having a foolproof confidence in our team and by establishing a colleague support system. Google conducted a study, which indicates that, to have a more efficient team, trust between the coworkers is more important than the team members’ pedigrees. At work (and elsewhere), people give their best when they trust one another, when they know they are allowed to make mistakes, when they know they can rely on each other, and when they understand the team’s goals.

In order to minimize our fear of uncertainty, we should make sure that our priorities and deadlines are clear. It is also important to advocate transparency between coworkers, but also with our managers; thus allowing for better management and organizational support. The organization’s managers must adopt the posture of a continuous improvement coach with their teams. To do so, managers must always be ready to listen to their people. And teams may help managers achieve this goal by expressing the real issues and the real topics they want to address. However, it does not happen overnight. First, managers have to be part of the team’s circle of trust, which is not always the case…

Of course, there are no quick fixes. But if we work on ourselves and on our team (including our managers) and if we are comfortable exposing us while controlling our fears and anxiety, we will be able to better assess our perceptions. Therefore, we will avoid seeing catastrophes everywhere.

Identify the exact source of your fears, be transparent, and don’t forget that you are not alone. Remember that everyone has felt fear at some point, even your boss!

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Jean-Sébastien Sladecek

During his career, Jean-Sébastien has played many roles, including that of developer, software architecture consultant, and project manager. His experience acquired over the years allows him to always be in control throughout the process of implementing IT systems. Working since 1997 in systems development and consulting services, he has been using Agile approaches since 2006 and is a certified Professional Scrum Master (PSM I).

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