Fear at Work: is your team in shock?

Are you leading a team in turmoil, or looking for a way to survive business and work challenges? You may be going through change—asking yourself questions about who you are and what you want for the future of your work, your company, and your life.

We all go through changes at work; from the moment we’re hired into a new role to the first time we have to give someone else performance feedback, we’re constantly changing and developing. We also all face normal human challenges like juggling work and family, getting laid off, or even coping with illness and reinventing ourselves. We may survive a crisis on our team, be acquired, restructured, downsized, or outsourced.

Think about your work environment.

Is it a place where people are concerned for their jobs, where they are uncomfortable with or distrustful of feedback, where there is a consistent background state of anxiety? OR, is it a place you are excited to go to, where new ideas are cultivated, where there is a sense of possibility and promise, and where you are unafraid to express yourself, to ask questions, or to come up with new ways of working?

Most of our organizations are a bit of both and during times of stress and challenge— and dare I say future shock—they can shift toward fear ruling their behavior and decisions.  Fight, flight, and freeze are the three fear-based behaviors that stop us from making good decisions, acting from the best part of ourselves. They are also what get organizations in trouble.

In organizations, fear can shut down the productivity and effectiveness of a team.

Fear is not the answer.

FEAR: \ fir\ to be afraid or apprehensive

When we operate in a state of fear, we shut down our best thinking and operate from reactivity to immediate danger. If we stay in that state of fear, we are consistently training our brains out of our best thinking.


Identify your own “being state” at work.

Take a moment to think about how much of your time you spend in each of these columns.  Think of how much time you see others spend in each of these columns at work.

Worry about what’s next/ what’s coming Confident that whatever happens you will make it through
Shying away from action Taking empowered action
Feeling negative or pessimistic about the future Feeling positive or optimistic about the future
Disconnecting from others Reaching out to build relationships
Tolerating chaos Practicing discipline
Focusing on survival issues Focusing on self-esteem, self actualization, or transcendence
Worry about what’s next/ what’s coming Confident that whatever happens you will make it through

From Fear to Unfear

UNFEAR : \ ən-fir\ confidence in one’s ability to overcome the odds, and to create a positive outcome no matter what the circumstance.

Many of us revert to survival-level behaviors in the face of fear, even when, in reality, those needs are covered.

When we are worried about survival, we don’t have the capacity to connect to higher level behaviors like searching for meaning, giving to others, and contributing our gifts and talents in a positive way. Instead, we become self-focused and fearful. To create Unfear, leaders need to move people up the ladder from the basics to the very top.

Remember, Unfear is confidence in our ability to create a positive outcome no matter what the circumstance, and it takes getting ourselves out of survival mode.

Over the next few months, we will explore both organizational and individual Unfear, and how you can proactively engage your own capacity to let go of what is blocking you from your best work. We’ll look at how to move beyond fear-based behaviors and activate confidence in yourself, your work team, and your organization no matter what the circumstance. We’ll share stories, practical exercises, and inspiration.

We will address the specific needs and desires of a new generation of leaders and organizational citizens who need to think on their feet and use their wits and street smarts, to use everything they’ve got in order to make their companies, and their world, a better place to be.

Coming soon  . . .

UNFEAR, a book about facing change in an era of uncertainty, by Karlin Sloan


About karlinsloan

Karlin Sloan has committed herself to finding out what makes great leaders tick, and to supporting leaders to be the change they wish to see in the world. As a corporate citizen she is an advocate for triple-bottom-line reporting, for creating sustainable ways of working and living, and for creating positive organizational communities that work together for the greater good. She is the author of the acclaimed business book Smarter, Faster, Better; Strategies for Effective, Enduring, and Fulfilled Leadership which has been translated into Thai and Russian, UNFEAR: Facing Change in an Era of Uncertainty, and co-author of the 2012 book Lemonade: The Leaders Guide to Resilience at Work. For more information see www.sloanleaders.com.
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4 Responses to Fear at Work: is your team in shock?

  1. Tim Barrow says:

    I found your statement about reverting to survival level behaviours even though they are met, very interesting. Because they ARE met. So what do we actually fear? Maybe a trip to India or Africa will put things into perpective.

    What you said has confirmed what I feel at the moment where I work, where is will be change ahead.

    • Karlin says:

      Isn’t it fascinating? There’s new brain research showing that any kind of change throws our brain into a temporary flight or fight mode, so the survival behavior is everywhere. Best of luck addressing your workplace changes! Humans are so interesting in that it’s very easy for us to think far into the future and “catastrophize”. We think the change may bring about a problem, we think we’ll suffer from that problem, we think we’ll be without a job, we think we’ll then be on the street. So without evidence, many of us project ourselves straight into a survival situation when there isn’t one. Thanks for reading!

  2. Pingback: How do you use the four practices of UNFEAR? | Karlin Sloan's Good Business

  3. Looking forward to the blog series and the book when it comes out. Great start . . . addressing fear in the workplace and survival instinct behaviors. Thank you.

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