The impact of Fear in the Workplace
We all react differently to change and have different comfort levels, when faced with uncertainty. Fear is a common response to change and uncertainty. This can be true on a personal level or at an organizational level. When faced with something new, we are challenged to do things differently.
For organizations, in any change process, fear can permeate people at all levels. It can bring out different behavioral reactions in people. For example, when faced with fear, some people may try to take control and/or take charge, others may internalize the stress they feel and withdraw, while others may voice their concerns, complain and/or gossip. No one’s response to fear is wrong, however, it can lead to issues within an organization, when we react to people’s behaviors, instead of addressing and dealing with the fear. There tends to be a focus on people’s behaviors, rather than why they are behaving a certain way. As a result, we create superficial solutions that don’t address the real problem. We allow fear to manage us, instead of us leading in a way that addresses the fear so that we can, effectively, manage the change.
The 3 Primary Fears
Throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s, American psychologist, Will Schutz, studied human behaviors and emotions. Out of his research, he determined that there are three primary feelings that drive all of us:
- Significance – Feeling a sense of purpose
- Competence – Feeling knowledgeable
- Likeability – Feeling a sense of connection and belonging
Essentially, everything we do, we do to fill these three buckets. Our jobs, who we are and what we do provides us with a sense of purpose and significance. We master a topic or skill, in order to be knowledgeable. We surround ourselves with friends or join peer groups, in order to feel connected and have a sense of belonging. Fear emerges when we are faced with situations that take away from these buckets. The three primary fears are:
- The Fear of Being Insignificant
- The Fear of Being Incompetent
- The Fear of Being Unlovable
How to Address Fear in the Workplace
As previously mentioned, fear looks different from one person to the next. Nancy’s fear of being incompetent, may come off as being “bossy.” While Joe’s fear of being incompetent could come off as him being a “micromanager.” If we were to provide a solution, based on those behaviors, maybe Nancy just needs to change the way she asks people to do things and Joe just needs to have more trust in his team. Case closed. Problem solved. Right?
Nope! You know why? Because we’re not addressing their fear of being incompetent. We don’t know why they’re feeling incompetent. We don’t know why it is important for them to feel competent. Nor do we know how to help them move toward a solution. As a result, we end up with short-term solutions that don’t address the real issues. When you address the source of problem, you can, more effectively, alleviate the symptoms.
As you navigate through conflict in the workplace, the three primary fears of being insignificant, incompetent and unlovable, can serve as a base for understanding the motivations behind people’s behaviors. This allows you to, more quickly, address the root cause of problems and create solutions that will have a lasting impact.
If your business needs help creating a culture of trust, openness and accountability, reach out to The Utech Group. Our top-driven approach to organizational development, improves leader-to-leader interaction and helps you develop an internal team of organizational experts, for faster, longer-lasting results. Our team looks forward to the opportunity to partner with you!