When you start your first day at work, you want to make a positive impression. All eyes are on you. That means everything you say and don’t say, everything you do and don’t do, falls under the social microscope -- and social judgment isn’t relegated to just day one of a new job. It repeats itself everyday, forever.
Fear of social judgment is a source of anxiety and unwanted gray hair. The fear of others’ perceptions and evaluations of your ideas, opinions and efforts is enough to keep your head down and your hands in your pockets when a supervisor asks for volunteers.
The downside of letting fear fester is this: if you don’t squash it, it will linger and snowball into a debilitating rationale that pigeonholes you into the category of “average"-- or even worse, "valueless.” That is the same as wearing an “out of service” placard on your back for daily life. This was a valuable lesson learned after the first time I was shot (yes, you read that correctly). I knew that if I didn’t get back in the saddle immediately that my mind would create the space for wonderment to evolve. When your teammates depend on you, there’s no place for “me” in a community of “we.”
Don’t let fear fester. If the thought of opining sends the same feeling of queasiness to your stomach as looking over a very tall ledge, there’s only one way to squash that fear: face it. Here are six strategies to flip the fear of social judgment on its head:
1. Name it.
What can be identified can be managed, and what gets managed gets improved. When aspiring to overcome fear, first determine whether it’s rationally or irrationally based. Rational fears make sense, as they explain why you wouldn’t jump into a shark tank during a feeding frenzy. Irrational fears exist out of habit and provide no basis in fact. This is when you fear driving over a bridge because it’s a bridge. Sure, the bridge could collapse, but then again the world could blow up tomorrow, too. “Coulds” don’t count because they’re grounded in potential; “woulds” don’t count because they’re not reality-based.
2. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
Many great ideas never reach the discussion table out of fear of social judgment. The fear of appearing stupid abounds many meeting tables, and while there are certainly stupid people in this world, there are no stupid questions--only the ones you don't ask. You can explore dialogue without opining by offering observations, recommendations, and asking open-ended questions that continue the conversation. What actually happens when you consistently question (but not too much) is the opposite--people see you as that confident soul who's willing to ask questions.
3. Lead with humility.
Being humble means being curious; being open to learning. When you’re open to learning you don’t fear failure or judgment because set backs are considered stepping stones toward the end game. Moreover, leading with humility helps create space for others to contribute. When you admit to not having all the answers you create a climate of interdependence that compels others to offer their solutions.
4. Be first.
There’s nothing worse than being fearful of something knowing that you have to face it. The fear of public speaking, for instance, is the source of wet pants for many who speak before groups. If you know you have to speak, get it over with. You’ll feel more confident that you chose to speak rather than compelled to do so.
5. Volunteer for everything.
One way to eliminate fears is by being well-rounded. Remember that irrational fears have no basis in fact, yet the fear of the unknown pervades many minds. The more competencies you build for yourself the greater your degree of self-efficacy, which is the belief in your ability to succeed. The more you conquer, the more you learn how to conquer.
Related: Practical Advice for Fighting Fear
6. Act like you know.
Imagine someone who’s fearless, somebody who shows no timidity even in the most austere conditions. Learn to visualize their verbal and non-verbal behaviors and adopt them for yourself such that the next time fear arises, pretend you're that person. Role model what he or she would do in that circumstance. Doing so offers a behavioral benchmark with which you can align yourself. One reason why people fear the unknown is because there’s no direction and no feedback. Role modeling offers both.
There's nothing wrong with fear--fear reminds you you're human--and once you overcome that fear, you add a new superpower to your resume.