'Working Wounded': Facing Your Fears

DEAR WOUNDED: A recent downsizing really brought a lot of people's fears to the surface. People reacted so strongly, that I realized that they feared for more than just their job.

ANSWER: As a person who does a lot of speeches, I was always fearful of not getting enough sleep the night before a speech. I would lie in bed worrying. I gave a talk in San Francisco and due to a variety of mishaps I only had two hours of sleep. The speech went fine. Now I sleep soundly on the road, because I no longer have to worry about not getting enough sleep.

I'm not trying to be over simplistic -- not all fears are so easily identified and resolved. But many can be. I've outlined some of the most common fears below along with strategies for addressing them. For more, check out "The One Thing You Need to Know" by Marcus Buckingham (Free Press. 2005).

Fear of death. Thanks to many people who pushed for health and safety rules at work, this is a fear that most of us don't have to carry to work each day. However, if you work around toxic fumes, dangerous machinery or face other serious safety hazards at work, it is important to not get cavalier about following safety guidelines, even if they're a hassle.

Fear of the outsider. Buckingham points out that humans are basically herd animals who need a sense of community to bring order and structure to our workplaces. This can be threatened by a new boss from outside the organization, a takeover by another company or an industry that is changing so dramatically that new competitors seem to come out of nowhere. The more an organization can share information with its people, the less impact the outsider fear will have on worker productivity.

Fear of the future. The last few years have been very turbulent in most of our workplaces. From the dot.com meltdown to the burst of cell phones, wi-fi and a number of new technologies, it is easy to see the future and fear it. The key is to remain nimble so that you can take advantage of the opportunities while dodging the bullets that usually go along with it.

Fear of chaos. Remember when you knew who your boss and competitors were? These days many of us have multiple bosses and competitors come from every direction. The best way to reduce the fear of chaos is to put effort into understanding what is going on around you. Obliviousness may feel better, but it is risky to take your eye off the ball today.

Fear of insignificance. Most people like to be acknowledged and respected. Unfortunately most bosses, according to my mail, aren't very good at providing this reassurance. Don't just take what comes your way; look for opportunities to have an impact.

Don't go sleepwalking through your workday, many of your fears can be addressed, but only if you make the commitment to deal with them.

We'd like to hear your strategy for recognizing and dealing with fears at work. I'll give an autographed copy of "Working Wounded: Advice that adds insight to injury" (Warner, 2000) to the best submission. Send your entry, name & address via: http://workingwounded.com or via e-mail: bob@workingwounded.com. Entries must be received by Wednesday (August 10).

Online Ballot and Contest

Here are the results from a recent workingwounded.com/ABCnews.com online ballot:
Which movie title best describes your strategy for dealing with conflict at work?

       "Apocalypse Now," 19.5 percent
       "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," 30.7 percent
       "Easy Rider," 49.6 percent

Winning Strategy

Our winning strategy for dealing with conflict comes from Ken S. in Mala, Sweden.:

"I have used this in situations with very senior people with gigantic egos and it works great. If you can stroke their egos first, they will talk with you like you are best friends. At first it feels like you are putting yourself in a subordinate position or a position of weakness, but once you do this a few times, you'll come out of the process feeling a sense of accomplishment, plus a feeling that you have put yourself in a position of relative power for the next conflict. When I look at the leaders that I have a lot of respect for, they do this sort of thing with apparent ease. It doesn't mean that they put themselves in a position of losing respect or not being respected. It means they know how to choose their battles and how to balance repsect with accomplishment and progress. Who do you respect more? The guy who gets things done or the guy that is always fighting the good or not so good fight?"

List of the Week

Future Trends…The office of the future 2020

      Technology tools to provide even greater flexibility

      Telecommuting to rise

      Staff to put in more time

      Workers will stay in touch while on vacation

      Companies/employees take a new view on work/life balance

Source: OfficeTeam

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, speaker and internationally syndicated columnist. His newest best seller, "GRAY MATTERS: The Workplace Survival Guide" (Wiley, 2004), is a business comic book that trades cynicism for solutions. Ask Bob a question: bob@workingwounded.com or http://graymattersbook.com.

ABCNEWS.com publishes a new Working Wounded column every Friday.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.