How do you teach people to manage fear?  If you have tips to share, I am interested in reading them.

Let me illustrate with an example.  While not from the workplace, I think it illustrates situations we face in the workplace.

My son was upset by a spider which showed up at his desk.   He said to me, "Dad, can you get rid of the spider for me?"  I said "It's just a little spider. Get a tissue and smoosh it."  While smooshing a spider is easy to do, I was unable to convince him that the spider posed no threat.

If I can't get my own son to smoosh a spider, how am I doing at work with the spiders we face every day?

I look forward to your response.




akinsgre's picture

I don't know if I have an answer, but I do have an illustrative story.

My son is also deathly afraid of bugs.  But.. this week, in the van, he was willing to brush a spider away with a tissue (still wouldn't smoosh it, 'cause that's gross!).  I'm not sure what helped him overcome that fear, but I think it's got to be about incremental steps.

Also, I think practicing scenarios in a controlled environment is a good way to overcome fear.  Finally, like one of M&M's examples about Christmas being stressful because you only get to practice once a year.  If something is difficult/scary do it a lot until it's easy/not-scary.

sklosky's picture

Hmmm.  Good idea.

Setup a "safe" practice space.

bug_girl's picture

This thread is discriminatory against Arthropods!  :)

Not all fears are the same--some are learned passively from others, some are from personal experience, and some just arise for no particular reason.  So, you'd need to know more about what the root of the fear is to try to work around it.

The biggest fears I deal with in the workplace are mostly indirect--fear of failure or looking silly keeps some directs from taking any risks. Fear of acting without complete information makes projects sit long past a deadline for action.  I've had some success discussing "what could happen" in a hypothetical way with directs to defuse the fear, but with a 20+ year pattern of behavior, sometimes you can only make baby steps forward.

I have a snake on my desk today (long story), and most people were fascinated, but one was totally creeped out. 

But I think dealing with snakes and dealing with risk aversion are pretty different.

I'm happy to be proven wrong. Mark/Mike? :p


jhack's picture

We don't typically handle hypotheticals here on the forums... Is one of your directs fearful of something in particular?  

In any case...

You can't manage people's emotions.   You can guide their behavior through feedback and coaching, etc.   If someone won't pick up the phone and call that important client, then they need feedback on making the timely call.  If they are afraid of the consequences, you need to coach them on handling difficult clients.  

Don't worry about their fears - focus on their behaviors.  

John Hack

PS:  If there really is a poisonous snake in the office, then I'd call Bug Girl...

sklosky's picture


I love spiders.  They eat bugs.  :)  Now am I a bug hater?  I hope not.  :)  I love bugs, but usually not in my house.  Maybe the proper response is to move the spider or bug, not to smoosh them.

Interesting insight.  One of my reactions when seeing a spider is to manipulate my initial apprehension into love of the spider, not fear.

I think that mentally changing a frightening thing into a friendly thing is a technique of dealing with fear.

I think having "scripted" responses or dialogs is a way to lessen the impact of our fears.  I think a good portion of the Manager Tools guidance helps to build scripts (sometimes called social receipes).



sklosky's picture

Timely . . .

 I think President Obama may have benefitted from reading this forum thread.  :)

I need one of these  . . .