For our ancestors, fear came in obvious forms: a bear, a steep cliff, a fire. Fear warned them of life and death dangers, instructing them to stay safe by fighting, fleeing, or freezing.
At an office or on the job, our daily fears aren’t a matter of life and death. They’ve been replaced by fears that are harder to pin down and more abstract. They’re things like rejection, failure, change, and the unknown.
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” — H. P. Lovecraft
When our brain responds to an abstract threat in the same way it would to a life-and-death threat, this can create some real problems in how we think and act. Consider the following examples of fear getting in the way at work:
- When Antonio’s team goes remote, he responds by scheduling constant check-ins and micromanaging their work. He’s afraid they won’t get their work done.
- Robert’s team needs to grow their online blog, but he’s afraid they won’t know how to do so. He outsources it to a creative agency.
- The waiting staff publicly blame the kitchen staff for mistakes made on orders because they’re afraid of losing tips.
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is a powerful way to better recognize and understand your fear, and then to manage your reaction to keep your stress at bay and make better decisions. Here’s what you can do:
- Practice self-care. “Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.”—Ovid
Fear creates stress and pressure, which left to their own devices, can damage your health and make your performance at work suffer. With unknowns around the corner, don’t tell yourself that you don’t have the time for the important things that keep you going. Instead, devote a bit of extra time and energy to self-care. Slow down. Take deep breaths. Clean up your sleep habits. Eat well. Exercise. Avoid multi-tasking. Get support from friends and family. The basics can go a long way in disrupting the stress that results from fear.
- Get in tune with your fear. Research shows that just being aware of strong emotions actually makes them a bit less strong. Sap the strength of your fear by understanding it better. Fear may not feel good, but it’s there for a reason. Instead of acting on an impulse, pushing your fear down, or ignoring it, try examining it more closely. Where is your fear coming from? What exactly are you afraid of?
- Slow down to appreciate the present moment. “Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.”—Thich Nhat Hanh
- Take action. You can’t think your way past fear. Eventually you will have to take a step forward toward whatever it is that you fear. Afraid of leaving your newly remote team to their own devices? Eventually you’re going to have to or your own performance as a manager is going to suffer. Remind yourself that the discomfort of taking on your fears is the price you have to pay to grow. If the situation allows, make your first actions small, and build your way up toward something bigger.
- Reflect. Think about your first move forward. Is there anything you want to do differently next time? Anything that worked surprisingly well? Don’t expect your first step forward to be perfect.
- Take another step in the right direction. Facing your fears takes repeat practice. The more you face your fear, the less scary it gets.
From Insights to Action. One of the best things about emotional intelligence is that it’s a framework you can apply to all different facets of your life. Take the strategies above and begin to apply them to other uncomfortable emotions.
For 66 strategies to improve your emotional intelligence, check out our book Emotional Intelligence 2.0. To learn more about emotional intelligence and TalentSmart’s EQ products and services, contact TalentSmartEQ at 888-818-SMART or visit us at https://www.talentsmarteq.com/contact/