How Fear Interferes in the Workplace (& Life)

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In my last blog, I addressed how Thoughts, Actions, and Emotions are the core components to success (however you choose to define it).  This follows the words of the founder of the school of Individual Psychology, psychotherapist Alfred Adler, M.D, who said, “We cannot think, feel, will, or act without the perception of some goal.”

Essentially, we, as human beings, tend to be driven by three natural motivations:

  1. Rewards (including Recognition)
  2. Fear (or avoidance of pain and danger; conversely, survival)
  3. Revenge

You’ve probably already heard how FEAR” represents “False Events Appearing Real,” and, yet, perception is reality; therefore, we must address fear(s) for the sake of intrapersonal development, efficacy, and the ability to influence others.  So, while peers and colleagues, &/or yourself, may vie for value contribution in the workplace (namely, the first motivator noted above), it is critical to also be aware of how much fear is present and how it is driving the culture of your team, department, or organization.

Our nearly daily challenge is to face behavior in four common areas and examine how they reduce our ability to be effective in the larger system, i.e. the organization. These four areas are known as the “Four Fatal Fears,” a term coined by psychologist Maxie Maultsby.  We may experience all four fears, however, there is usually one or two that tend to dominate our lifestyle, thereby interfering with how we show up at work.

FOUR FATAL FEARS

Fear: Fear of Being Wrong

Associated Need: Being Right

How it shows up: argumentative, arrogant

What you avoid: where you could fail or make mistakes

Fear: Fear of Losing

Associated Need: Need to Win

How it shows up: tend to see things as win-lose, competitive – could be ruthless

What you avoid: situations where you could lose

Fear: Fear of Rejection

Associated Need: To Be Liked/Accepted

How it shows up: challenge, accommodating, ingratiating yourself to people, indirectness, white lies

What you avoid: conflict, challenging the group, avoiding people who are different, honesty

Fear: Fear of Emotional Discomfort

Associated Need: To Be in Control of Emotions

How it shows up: stoicism, avoiding feelings of guilt, anger, intimacy, sharing embarrassment, stonewalling, blame

What you avoid: situations where authenticity is needed, all emotional situations, conflict

FEAR of being WRONG.  There is a Need to be Right.  The self-talk (i.e. Thought) that emerges from this fear typically revolves around themes of intelligence.  Examples include, “I’m so stupid.  How could I have made such an idiotic mistake?!”  These thoughts probably stem from the learned behavior of lowered self-worth (i.e. Emotions) due to strong criticism.  The behavior (i.e. Actions) that manifests typically includes strong self-assurance (functional behavior that may be misperceived by others) and attempts to prove others wrong (dysfunctional behavior that is a subconscious attempt to preserve one’s identity).  This also includes withholding of information for fear of making a mistake.  Professions generally include scientists, academics, R&D, doctors, and analysts.

FEAR of being LOSING.  There is a Need to Win.  The self-talk (i.e. Thought) that emerges from this fear typically revolves around themes of competition.  Examples include, “I am a total loser.  Put the ‘L’ on my forehead.” These thoughts probably stem from the learned behavior of lowered self-worth (i.e. Emotions) due to not having achieved the top recognition.  The behavior (i.e. Action) that manifests typically includes heightened energy (functional behavior that may be misperceived by others) and aggression at winning at all costs (dysfunctional behavior that is a subconscious attempt to preserve one’s identity).  This includes behavior of purposely un-filling a professional request made privately and then publicly broadcasting an incompletion of your “dropping of the ball” to the team.  Professions generally include sports coaches & athletes, CEO’s, salespeople, and marketing.

FEAR of REJECTION.  There is a Need to be Accepted.  The self-talk (i.e. Thought) that emerges from this fear typically revolves around themes of collectivism.  Examples include, “I am such a reject.  Nobody wants me; nobody wants to be with me.”  These thoughts probably stem from the learned behavior of lowered self-worth (i.e. Emotions) due to feeling left out of a group &/or teased.  The behavior (i.e. Action) that manifests typically includes the ability to adapt in order to appeal and assist (functional behavior that may be misperceived by others) and emotional manipulation through immediate acquiescence, appeasement, &/or self-victimizing/martyrdom (dysfunctional behavior that is a subconscious attempt to preserve one’s identity).  This includes “inner-circle” glances and alliances to form against the “villain” or perpetrator.  Professions generally include nursing, teaching/training, non-profits, and counselors.

FEAR of EMOTIONAL DISCOMFORT.  There is a Need to be Emotionally Comfortable.  The self-talk (i.e. Thought) that emerges from this fear typically revolves around themes of control and stability.  Examples include, “I feel so uncomfortable, anxious, nervous. I can’t stand feeling this way!”  These thoughts probably stem from the learned behavior of an environment either devoid of emotion or one where the adult as a child was unable to develop coping mechanisms to handle the intensity of emotion.  The behavior (i.e. Action) that manifests typically includes even-temperedness (functional behavior that may be misperceived by others) and blame &/or self-victimization (dysfunctional behavior that is a subconscious attempt to preserve one’s identity).  This includes complaints of being unduly, negatively influenced.  Professions generally include independent contractors, consultants, CEO’s, and accountants.

There is a lot of self-justification that is practiced in situations that trigger fear-based reactions, typically, because your experience has taught you that you need to protect yourself.  It is a natural response. There is no sense in flaying yourself for your behavior.  Rather, recognize where your past experience(s) may cause you to be presently ineffective and actively work on selecting strategically effective responses.

And, if your behavior is functional, others may respond negatively to you due to their fear, their perception.  It is not you.  However, it is what you represent.  When someone projects his/her anger onto you, remember it is really a reaction to a trigger that has its origin in the past.

Face your fears.  Live Fully.

Thank you.

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership & Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator.  CorporateLookingGlass.com.  Note: Much of the data used for this blog is empirical and is used in the context of broad generalizations.

Sources:

Dr. Alfred Adler, The Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology, (Center City, Minnesota: Hazelden Foundation, 1998).

Dr. Maxie Maultsby, Rational Behavioral Therapy, (Appleton, Wisconsin: I’ACT, 1984).

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About Rossina

Thought Partner & Corporate Primatologist

Posted on April 2, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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