4 Steps to Successfully Manage Fear in the Workplace

Let’s be honest. We all feel a sense of fear almost every single day. It can come from anywhere. A close call while driving. an unexpected noise. Strange sight of a stranger in the subway. Or a difficult conversation with a co-worker.

When we don’t deal with growing fears, such as worrying about succeeding on a project at work, we can succumb to unhealthy fear responses. In their work coaching top executives at companies ranging from Fortune 10 to fledgling startups, John Baird and Edward Sullivan — president and CEO of Velocity, respectively — found the most unproductive behaviors at work (arguments, missing deadlines, poor communication). , etc.).) There are forms or one of three classic fear responses: fight, flight, and freeze.

I reached out to him at the release of his new book on the subject, Leadership from the Heart: Five Conversations That Unlock Creativity, Purpose and Results, To train their clients around fear in the workplace, John and Edward developed a simple framework to help leaders not only manage fear, but to make it their ally. There are only four parts to the process, but the genius is in its simplicity.

1. Name and embrace your fear

John and Edward found that leaders are more successful when they are willing to admit their fears. This isn’t always easy to do, but a mindset of being open to naming and understanding fear is a good place to start.

Academic research supports the value of facing our fears. In his research on leaders and their strategies for dealing with fears, Tony Jackman Hampton found that when they were able to name their fears, leaders were able to explore and remain open to strategies for dealing with them. She found that while these fears never really go away, they tend to fade away as leaders identify new ways to cope.

Leaders who view stressful events and fears as challenges to learning rather than as obstacles that may hinder their development are more likely to improve their performance. Not all customers can immediately admit their fears. With some, it takes time to break down these barriers and move toward change. In other cases, leaders are unable to face their fears, which can result in the company failing.

2. Share your fear

Once the fear is named and written down, the next step is to share your fear with your team members. John and Edward often ask leaders to provide feedback from a small group of people on whether fear is affecting the leader’s performance. These can be team members or other people working closely with the leader.

They typically train leaders to use an open-ended process that begins with naming their fears, and then encourages teams of leaders to share what they fear. How are they affected? When leaders take the time to learn about each other’s stories and fears, they are better able to understand what’s behind unproductive behavior. By creating an environment of openness and transparency, leaders help their teams feel comfortable expressing their fears as well.

Collecting this kind of feedback helps leaders acknowledge and embrace their fears. After gathering concrete feedback on specific behaviors that they should stop, start, and continue to do, it is important for leaders to plan and ask their teams to hold them accountable for changing their behavior.

3. Make a plan

The fear is very deep and it is difficult to change it. Without a plan of action, nothing will change. The plan can be simple and a few questions can lead the way:

  • What are you afraid of?
  • What are your typical fear reactions?
  • What happens when you succumb to your fears?
  • What are you going to stop, start, and continue to make fear an ally?

You can start your plan yourself or work with a coach, but you’ll also need to involve your team to help expand that plan and make sure it’s implemented. When you allow your teammates to hold you accountable, they can tell when you’re “doing that job again.” It often takes a gentle nudge from someone we trust to help us lift us out of the fog of fear.

4. Tell Your Story

The final step in making fear your ally is to try and tell your story to a wider audience. Stories inspire and motivate people, and help leaders connect with their teams. The fear that leaders have is often the same fear that others experience. When leaders are sensitive to their fear and express a willingness to do something about it, their team responds helpfully. Leaders who are brave enough to be vulnerable with their teams often open up to other people and make room for others to deal with their fears.

It can be difficult to openly face your fears, especially at work. Most of us were told “never let them see you sweat” and that showing fear is weakness. We must have an “executive presence” and it must appear as a being all together.

Still, hundreds of leaders and recent research support the idea that fear is the best way to deal with it. The fear that is ignored keeps on increasing. It is leaders who do not face fear who end up with toxic office cultures.

Conversely, leaders who are open and courageous about their fears tend to ally it and create even more respect and trust among their teams.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.