Fear is a powerful emotion. It can motivate us, helping us make progress toward our goals. But it can also be paralyzing, especially when fear and anxiety are at the heart of a relational dynamic. Someone reached out to me recently on this very issue. They shared, “I am very afraid of my boss, I want to build a bridge with him in order to communicate effectively and efficiently. But I am too scared to speak to him.”
First, a great place to start when faced with fear is to ask for help. I’m so thankful they had the courage to reach out.
While I’m not an expert in dealing with fear issues beyond the realm of public speaking, I related to her feelings as I have two kids who struggle with anxiety. So I am constantly trying to learn more about managing these feelings.
Here are a few things I have tried along the way and learned from experience:
- Look ahead: Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Then ask, “So what?” Sometimes when we’re stuck in a fearful thought pattern, it helps to take a step back and get some perspective. When we list out the things we’re afraid of, we often find that upon further inspection, the outcomes we fear most are the least likely to happen. This exercise is a great way to build confidence before having a tough conversation.
- Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable: It is understandably a struggle to initiate a conversation that may be confrontational. Being comfortable with conflict is a learned skill that takes time. Personally, when I’m hesitant about a potential conflict, it’s usually because I’m afraid of weakening the relationship in the process. But I have come to realize conflict brings the potential to strengthen connection rather than weaken it. It still takes courage to be vulnerable, but remind yourself that there is value in conflict.
I recently listened to author and coach Dr. Anna Yusim talk about 5 ways we can respond when feeling anxious and it was great information to share on this subject:
- Repression. The unconscious blocking of unpleasant emotions. She said this is not a good choice so I won’t elaborate.
- Suppression. Considered better than repression, this is the conscious avoidance of the emotion that has developed to avoid its expression.
- Escape. This is a technique that worked when my kids were younger. I would have called it a distraction. I averted their attention and redirected their emotions. This may only be a temporary fix but certainly helps when you are spinning.
- Expression. She shared that expressing the feelings reduces their power. So start talking. By speaking them it potentially minimizes the hold.
- Feel and Let Go. I get this one in theory but the let go part seems easier said than done. I revert back to my timer technique I shared in this blog post. Sometimes just limiting yourself and making the decision to let go works – worth a shot!
We all face moments of fear and anxiety, that is normal. What works for you to move forward and act, even when those feelings arise? I am always open to new ideas.
***Please note, if you struggle with persistent anxiety, a therapist or counselor is going to be best equipped to help you with fear management. Also, if you’ve experienced any form of verbal abuse at work, it’s always appropriate to speak with human resources or someone within your organization who is in a position to help.