Here’s an article about passive aggressiveness at work (which is something that ideally would have ended in the 1400s), and the author brings up an interesting point near the end. There are essentially three types of fear at work (there are actually probably many more types, if we’re being honest) and your relationship to / avoidance of those fears drives a ton of actions and behaviors around you:
- Fear of failure/incompetence (you probably see this a bit more at senior levels)
- Fear of rejection
- Fear of conflict
I could probably come up with a few more “fear of…” for different workplaces, including “fear of authority” (which oftentimes authority uses back to their advantage), but this is a solid list. I’d estimate, total without scientific fact, that about 47 percent of all workplace problems come from these three fears. Add this into “The Four Horsemen” of the workforce, and bam.
Here’s how this all works, IMHO:
Fear of Failure: This is pretty common at all levels. If you’re lower, you don’t want to be seen as unable to deliver; that can stagnate where you are and who you are in a company. If you’re higher up the chain, you want to maintain the respect of your employees — but oftentimes rather than doing that through actual organic conversation, you do it through “formal power = knowing what’s right.” That’s a horribly confused stance, because between a genius and an idiot, you know who asks more questions? The genius. There’s a reason why that is. I like to show what I know in a lot of situations because personally I’m a total piss-ant, but if I know nothing about something, I’ll cop to that. How else can you learn if you don’t let your guard down a little bit? Work isn’t about knowing all the answers. It’s about figuring out how to learn the gaps (and work the political angles, naitch).
Fear of Rejection: This is in all of us. We’re social animals. Who wants to think another person doesn’t like them, right? I think the thing people — ** raises own hand ** — often forget about work is that work rejection is usually around a series of ideas or deliverables. That’s not personal rejection. Like, at 26 I asked this girl on a date. She said no. That basically says, ‘Yea, I don’t see us in that way. Sorry.’ If I pitch something to a boss and he/she says no, that’s not the same thing at all. That’s like, ‘I lack bandwith on this right now!’ or ‘It doesn’t fit into the current structure I’m supposed to be working towards.’ One is an indictment of your looks/personality; one is an indictment of a current contextual situation around top-level organizational goals. The latter is easier to take.
Fear of Conflict: Ditto on all of us experiencing this. Here’s a quote from the same Fast Company article:
As Maigan Wilkins points out: “A large part of letting go of passive-aggressive behavior is accepting that conflict happens. Conflict at work (or anywhere) is not necessarily a bad thing if you make an effort to move through it productively.”
Yep. Conflict is everywhere, son. Marriages, friendships, relationships with family, work, people you play pick-up basketball with, guys at the bar, whatever. Conflict is essentially universal. Best you can do with it is try to manage it in a productive way, like that quote says. At work, you essentially have to manage it in a productive way; if you don’t, you get a rep. With that rep, you’re basically an albatross. I’ve been there.
What other types of fear would you add?