Recently a young professional woman noted that she feared something almost as much as she feared public speaking. Her mention of a fear of public speaking was surprising because she is a “take charge” person, never reticent in a meeting or group. She is an outstanding team leader, a good delegator, and she doesn’t shy away from conflict. So why the fear?
Experts note that public speaking is one of the top two or three fears of the average person. It is so common that it makes one wonder if it is real or imagined. A person speaks publicly all the time, but assigns a greater fear if the speaking is more formal.
This made me think about what other fears women, particularly those just beginning their careers, may have in the workplace. Several possibilities come to mind:
Fear of the boss
Fear of coworkers
Fear of failure
Fear of embarrassment
Fear of making a mistake
Fear of looking foolish
Fear of looking inexperienced
Fear of conflict
Fear of responsibility
Fear of ridicule
Fear of inability
Fear of inadequacy
Fear of being an impostor
Fear of being a leader
Fear of being stuck in position
Fear of change
Fear of success
(Important Note: if you are fearful because you are being bullied or are the target of sexism, please immediately speak with someone from Human Resources.)
Take a minute to think about which of the fears apply directly to you. Are any of your fears missing from the list? Which ones are actually impeding your performance? How are you managing your fears? What will it take to get beyond them?
Next consider whether the same fears apply to your male colleagues. If not, why not? What gives men confidence in areas that make you fearful. Do they fail to speak up and offer ideas — even with foolish or impossible ideas? Do they agonize over a lack of ability or being inexperienced? Do they avoid the boss, or do they make every effort to engage her or him in conversation, trying to sit next to them at meetings, and competing to be heard in the crowd? Observing the different behaviors of men and women in the workplace can be instructive.
Finally, make an action plan for dealing with each of your fears. Remaining passive and unobtrusive (and fearful) won’t do it. Your goal is to get ahead, to have your outstanding efforts noticed and rewarded. That means recognizing, facing, and addressing your fears and then moving beyond them.
Your action plan may include goals such as trying to speak once at every meeting. Or you volunteering for an assignment or to be part of a new team effort. Better yet, it might be time to volunteer to lead a team. Talking with a mentor or other women about how they overcame workplace fears can also be helpful.
Like most fears, once you identify them, dissect them, and then meet them head-on, they are greatly diminished. And once you have resolved your workplace fear, tackle that fear of public speaking.