What caused the downward spiral of Nokia, the mobile technology giant? A case study indicates that the company’s performance was weakened by collective fear: top managers were afraid of competition from rival products, while middle managers were afraid of their bosses, and employees feared for jobs and pay cut.

Research suggests that negative emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, and the likes usually lead to negative outcomes, including poor performance. Duncan Gallie, Professor of Sociology at the University of Oxford, and colleagues studied 2949 people and found that one-third of workers fear for jobs and pay.  This number is on the rise.

Ethnologists define fear as “a motivational state aroused by specific stimuli that give rise to defensive behavior or escape.” In all of its open and hidden forms, fear can undermine innovation and performance. It’s as true for an individual as it is for organizations. The reasons for fear could be many: job insecurity in times of economic crisis, a bully boss, concerns about voicing opinions or being sidelined by superiors.

What does fear do to individuals? A research paper lists some alarming consequences:

  • Affects ability to think well and act efficiently.
  • Undermines commitment, motivation and confidence.
  • Crushes enthusiasm and creativity.
  • Forces one to work only to self-protect.
  • Converts irrational fears into rational.
  • Imbalances emotional quotient, leading to loss of perspective.
  • Keeps one from fulfilling potential.

Awareness, acceptance, and conscious efforts can help overcome fear. Here are some tips to help you manage this emotion better.

Realize, acknowledge and analyze. Fear affects people in different ways.  Jumbled up thoughts, feelings of anxiety and nervousness, defensive and aggressive behavior, are some of its signs. If a situation or person inspires these reactions in you, recognize and accept that fear might be driving your actions – this is the first step. Once you know what prompts your fear, think of how the emotion can be overcome.

Maintain transparency. Made a mistake? Come out clean, take responsibility and present a solution. This highlights your sense of accountability and a willingness to learn – positive qualities worth appreciation.

Manage expectations. Understand what your organization, superiors, and colleagues expect of you. Discuss goals and responsibilities. Point out unrealistic goals, which might lead to underachieving and fear of not meeting expectations.

Act confident. Be independent, confident, and take decisions. Realize that a rude boss, office politics, and harassment by colleagues are problems. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, discuss such issues politely but firmly and aim to find solutions.

One last tip: think long term. Do not lose your sense of higher purpose by avoiding long-term planning. Listing your career goals, as well as yearly, quarterly and monthly goals, will help you focus and achieve. It also includes developing new skills and constantly learning so as to keep up with change. Keeping fear at bay, then, is easy.

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