I get asked all the time, “Why are we afraid of standing up and talking?”
And actually, it’s an incredibly instinctive fear. It comes partly from a primitive need to survive, tied directly to tribal dynamics. When you stand up in front of a tribe you are separating yourself from them. They could reject you or even attack you, threatening your survival—and our brains are hardwired to keep that from happening.
When we speak in public to face underlying fears, this goes against our intense need to be part of a community, to be liked, to be accepted, to be one of the tribe. Because we’re separating ourselves and saying, “Follow me, I know the way.”
Now, great leadership demands running the risk that you may be wrong, and as such you could be subject to ridicule or rejection. But caving into your fears around this means you may never lead—whether that’s in your professional or personal life.
Understanding the underlying fears that are holding you back is the first step to conquering them:
Fear of Vulnerability
People in the corporate world are often taught to wear a poker face and keep a professional attitude at all times.
The problem is, that’s not how we speak to each other when we’re passionate about something. You don’t stand at a lectern in a suit when you’re talking to your friends.
Meanwhile, it can feel vulnerable to show emotion in a workplace setting. We worry if we share what we believe we won’t be accepted. This fear makes people shut down.
Unfortunately, squashing true expression will translate as a lack of enthusiasm—and no one wants to watch someone unenthusiastically talk for 30 minutes.
Conversely, if you have the courage to be real, be vulnerable and share your truth people will admire your humanity (whether they say so or not).
Fear of Rejection
Slightly different from a fear of vulnerability is the fear of rejection.
Whether it’s an idea or a project, no one wants to hear their work isn’t good enough. And people frequently equate rejected work with a rejection of themselves—their ability, character, personality.
This is especially true in interviews when you’re not pitching your work, but yourself. Fear of rejection may make a person question themselves constantly, wondering “Am I good enough?” And having that line sprinting through your head can be enough to make anyone hold themselves back from new opportunities.
You can overcome this by remembering that an interview or sales pitch is not about selling. It’s about collaboration. Don’t appear pushy or desperate. Remember your worth and consider if you want to work with them. Interview them as much as they interview you, to find out if you are a good match for each other. This will put all of you at ease and make your meetings more productive.
Fear of Criticism
People are also afraid of receiving criticism.
Whether criticism is constructive or not many people shy away from this, to protect their ego. It makes people close off their work to feedback and they miss the chance to improve and grow.
Remember this: people who disagree with small aspects of your idea often like most of what you’ve said and are trying to make your idea better. Criticism doesn’t mean people don’t respect you – in fact, they respect you enough, to be honest about how they feel.
Fear of Failure
And of course, there is always the classic fear of failure.
Whereas most fears keep us from acting because of what others could say or do, a fear of failure holds us back because of what we could mess up for ourselves. Ironically, if we hold ourselves back then failure is guaranteed because we stop ourselves from having any chance at succeeding.
Unfortunately, what happens with most of these fears is people put up armour—and never take it off. They never reveal their true emotions.
And this kills our connection with one another. The one thing we need from any environment—at home, in the office, out with friends—is a connection to our fellow humans. So allowing underlying fears to rule our behaviors means we lose out on the chance to live a full life.
Conquering our fears isn’t just about giving good speeches—it’s about living a good life.
Would you like more help? You can find out more about overcoming these fears and communicating with confidence by visiting my website.