3 Signs that Fear is Ruling How You Communicate at Work

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Is having peaceful relationships at work critically important to you?

Is it to the extent that it leaves you unable to share a different opinion or address difficult issues?

If fear rules how you communicate at work, read on.

Over 15 years ago, I opened my first business.  I desperately wanted it to be successful.

3 Signs that Fear is Ruling How You Communicate at Work

I wanted clients so badly that I let them run the show.

I let them book appointments at times that weren’t convenient to me.  I’d book more clients than I truly wanted to see in a day.

I allowed some clients to frequently stay past their appointment times and didn’t charge a penny extra for it.  I’d even field phone calls from clients in the evening who would let me know that they needed an urgent report for the next morning and… you guessed it… I’d hustle all night to get it done, whether or not I had other priorities.

I so desperately wanted my clients to be happy, that I sacrificed my own well-being time and time again.

Now, I of course still want my clients to be happy today.  But back then, I was letting fear dictate my decisions.

Deep down, I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to find enough clients.  That my clients wouldn’t like me.  That they wouldn’t think I was good enough.

The problem is that when fear rules your interactions with others, it puts you in a position where you’re easily taken advantage of.  It also tends to attract people who are happy to take more than their fair share, at your expense.

(Side note here for any old clients who may be reading this – I’m not insinuating that all of my former clients fell into these patterns.  I also had many absolutely wonderful clients back in my old business.  But I also had some who I would not choose to work with today).

3 Signs that Fear is Ruling How You Communicate at Work

If you’re wondering if fear may be ruling how you communicate with others at work, here are 3 signs to help you recognize these patterns:

1. You don’t share what’s on your mind.

Perhaps you’re in a meeting and have something you’d like to share but question if it’s valuable enough.  After meetings, you think of all of the things you should have said and wish you’d spoken up.

If you downplay the importance or validity of your ideas, fear may be holding you back from speaking up and sharing your ideas.

2. You hold back for fear of upsetting others.

You often don’t share your true thoughts because you’re afraid of upsetting others.  You may be concerned about how others perceive what you’re saying and what their reaction might be.

If you find yourself worried that someone might get upset with your point of view or might get angry with you about something you’ve said, this will inevitably impact how you communicate with others at work.  You’ll show up as who they need you to be rather than who you truly are.

3. You accept responsibility for others’ missteps.

Have you ever found yourself taking responsibility for things that aren’t your own fault?  You know it wasn’t your fault but don’t speak up when the blame is being put on you?  

I’ve seen this dynamic too often as teams work to negotiate project responsibilities, particularly when projects aren’t moving forward as planned.

It is, of course, important to take ownership of your own mistakes. However, if you have a tendency to own a bigger share of the responsibility than what is truly yours to own, you may be experiencing some underlying fear.

Where to go from here?

You may have recognized yourself in this article, or perhaps one of your team members or colleagues.  Developing an awareness that fear underlies some of these behaviours is the first step towards changing them.

If you recognized yourself in the points above, start tuning into how your body feels in these different situations.  Start to become familiar with what fear feels like, so you start to pick up on when it’s driving your interactions.

Then, you can work on ways to better tolerate these feelings while slowing taking steps to speak up, little by little.

Personally, when I started to realize that some of my behaviours were fear-based, I made myself a promise that once I became consciously aware that fear was holding me back, I’d challenge myself to deal with the issues head on. I learned to manage the racing heart beat and the sweaty palms so I could put myself out there and say or do what needed to be done to respect myself.

It may be difficult at first, but once you get there, it’s incredibly liberating.  It also becomes easier each time you practice it.

If you’re a manager and recognize these behaviours in one of your team members, your best step is to focus first on building trust with the employee in question, so that they start to feel safe sharing their opinions and ideas.

With dedication and practice, you too can learn how to set fear aside during your interactions with even the most demanding person at work.

If you liked this post, you might also like:

When to Listen to Fear… and When to Let It Go

How to Deal with Boundary Pushers

7 Signs That Your Team Has a Communication Problem

Lindsay Lapaquette

Lindsay Lapaquette

Lindsay Lapaquette, M.Sc.(A) works with middle managers who want to communicate authentically so they can effectively lead their teams without losing themselves. As a former Speech-Language Pathologist, Lindsay applies her expertise in the neuroscience of communication and connection to help managers foster an environment of trust and respect in their teams, so that everyone can bring their best selves to work.

Lindsay’s approach has been profoundly influenced by her work with First Nations organizations, her experience as a parent to two neurodivergent children, and the premature loss of both of her parents. These experiences have taught Lindsay great lessons about the power of excellent people skills that extend well beyond her professional expertise.

Lindsay Lapaquette

Lindsay Lapaquette

Lindsay Lapaquette, M.Sc.(A) works with middle managers who want to communicate authentically so they can effectively lead their teams without losing themselves. As a former Speech Language Pathologist, Lindsay applies her expertise in the neuroscience of communication and connection to help managers foster an environment of trust and respect in their teams, so that everyone can bring their best selves to work.

Lindsay’s approach has been profoundly influenced by her work with First Nations organizations, her experience as a parent to two children with pervasive mental health challenges, and the premature loss of both of her parents. These experiences have taught Lindsay great lessons about the power of excellent people skills that extend well beyond her professional expertise.

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Leadership communication skills to elevate team performance.

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