Talent Development

Coaching Teams through Work-Based Fears

By Brit MeredithJuly 19, 2016

Fear is a powerful thing – and it can keep employees from bringing all they have to offer to the table. Everyone wants to be the all-star in the office – the person with the good ideas and solid performance – but fear may be keeping them from following through with and displaying their talents. 

Common Work-Based Fears

Generally the most common work-based fears are rejection, failure, and perceived incompetence. For instance, if employees are afraid to approach managers with their ideas because of fear of rejection. They’ve come up with a unique idea or proposal, they’ve done all the research, they’ve perfectly honed their presentation, but they’re afraid management won’t go for it. They’re convinced all their hard work will be spurned. Similarly, employees may be afraid of embarrassing themselves. They think their ideas are good, but they fear that they may be off-base. In fact, they fear they’re so far off-base that they’re left a red-faced laughingstock.

There’s also the fear of failure itself. Our society is about success and being the best, so failure can seem like the end of the world. Self-worth is tightly tied to success, and failure can really be a blow to self-esteem and self-confidence. Perhaps, the most serious fear is the fear of being fired. Employees may fear that if their ideas are considered so far off-base and out of sync with the rest of the company that they’ll be fired.

While these fears are very real, managers can help reassure team members that a lot of their fears are irrational or misplaced. However, be sure not to dismiss team members’ fears out of hand. In fact, sometimes fear – even irrational fear – can make us cautious, and cautiousness can be a good thing. Caution can make us carefully think through our actions and potential proposals.

Advice for Coaching Team Members through Their Fears

Of course, too much fear and caution can be completely paralyzing – and that’s why managers need to coach team members through the worst of their fears so that they can find a happy medium. To help coach team members through their fears and to encourage them to put themselves out there at work by making proposals and airing their opinions, encourage them to do the following:

  • Think positively. Instead of viewing failures and setbacks as the disastrous culmination of a journey, encourage colleagues to view failure as a single stop – albeit a bad one – in a long journey. This can give them some much needed perspective and keep them from dwelling on their failures.
  • Stop thinking negativelyCaution them against negative thinking. Negative thinking includes berating yourself over every little thing you do and say – that’s an unhealthy habit and one that can greatly increase fear. Encourage them to focus on their successes.
  • Talk it through. Sometimes team members may feel that they’re stuck inside their own heads, treading the same tired ground over and over again – they’ve gone over all the pros and cons of their proposal/idea but they’re stuck, they can’t see anything for what it is anymore. At this point, talking the matter through with a trusted friend or mentor can be invaluable – they’re objective and can provide more realistic feedback that’s not shrouded in fear. Encourage employees to view managers as trusted advisors – a lot of them won’t, they probably won’t want to unveil their ideas to the boss until they’re absolutely certain their ideas have merit – but encourage them to seek out someone they do trust and who can provide them with feedback.
  • Think through the worst-case scenario. Encourage team members to realistically think through the scenarios that may occur if they follow through with presenting their proposals or sharing their ideas – especially the worst-case scenario. This can give your employees a much more realistic and grounded idea of the potential outcomes of putting themselves out there at work – outcomes that don’t include the end of the world.

Be Approachable, Methodical, and Objective When Reviewing Proposals

Of course, one of the most important things to help employees overcome their work fears is how their ideas are received, accepted, and rejected. All the coaching tips in the world won’t help team members overcome their fears if their ideas are shut them down prematurely.

You need to establish a method for how you evaluate your employees’ ideas – such as first providing positive feedback. Follow this by providing them with negative feedback – where they went astray, with a thorough explanation of why and tell them exactly what you were looking for and use examples. Don’t leave them wondering or they’ll likely make the same mistakes again. Conclude with an outline of the next steps they can take – adjustments they can make to their existing ideas/proposals, or an assignment that they can begin work on. Giving employees something active to do puts a proactive spin on their pitch or proposal – no matter how it actually went over.

Perhaps most importantly, always finish with a thank you. Let employees know that you appreciate them putting themselves out there and sharing their ideas – this will help team members feel like their efforts are recognized and it’ll make them less fearful of pitching future ideas. Additionally, having an established method for evaluating ideas can help put them at ease – they know what to expect going in, and having a little foreknowledge can go a long way in calming their nerves.

Recognize Work-Based Fears for What They Are – A Person’s Fear for Their Livelihood

Fear is a completely normal thing – especially when it concerns a person’s livelihood. Help team members keep their fears under control with the tips outlined above, and remember not to become frustrated with employees’ fears – it’s likely keeping them from rushing headlong into what could be serious mistakes. Like everything else, team members need to find a balance, one that encompasses both positive and negative forces.

Brit Meredith

Brit Meredith

Writer

About the Author

Brit Meredith has a master's degree in Technical Communication and works as a writer and editor.

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