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: firstname.lastname@example.org. Entries must be received by Wednesday (August 10).
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?