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The Five Fears that Minimize Productivity

Dan Bobinski
July 29, 2004 -- By Dan Bobinski 

Fear is a universal emotion.  Every person, no matter his or her station in life, faces fears.  But fear can be devastating to productivity.  If management can minimize fear, it’s easier to maximize productivity.
A few years back, Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans wrote a book entitled “Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em: Getting Good People to Stay.”  The basic premise is that love helps your employees feel valued, and as a result they stick around.  This is neither mushy sentiment nor erotic infatuation, but rather a true, genuine caring.  Such caring creates what I call an “emotionally safe environment.”  When employees feel safe, they are enabled to bring their best to the table without reservation.
If the concept of Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em is a key to maximizing productivity, it stands to reason that the absence of love can minimize it. Contrary to popular belief, the opposite of love is not hate, but fear.  At the risk of stating the obvious, when employees are afraid, they do not feel safe.
Therefore, to maximize productivity, management must not only Love Em or Lose Em, they must also work to minimize the fear factor in people.
At least five fears are universal:
-         Fear of Criticism
-         Fear of Rejection
-         Fear of Failure
-         Fear of Not Getting What You Want
-         Fear of Losing What you Have
Let’s consider each of them:
1. Criticism.  Most people are their own worst critic. Therefore, it doesn’t really help matters much when managers and co-workers jump on the criticism bandwagon and ride it hard.  When mistakes are made (and everybody make them), realize that the mistake is done – it’s over – it’s past tense. No possibility exists to go back and change what happened.  Instead, what can happen—and should happen—is turn the situation into a positive learning experience, moving forward with wisdom to avoid such mistakes in the future.  No long-term productivity comes from an atmosphere of criticism.
2. Failure.  One of the biggest lies in the world is that people are failures.  Failure has to do with circumstances—not people.  The reason a fear of failure can be devastating is because it creates a situation without hope.  Essentially, failures occur, but nobody can be labeled a failure if they get up after they fall.  Because faith is a powerful tool, management and coworkers do well to encourage people to get up after they fall.  No encouragement and they might not want to get up for fear of being labeled a failure.
3. Rejection.  Whereas failure has to do with circumstances, rejection is personal. It has been said that human beings were created to be receptacles of love.  So even though the most callous of individuals may not care what most people think, there is always someone who’s opinion matters.  Most employees care about what their bosses and coworkers think.  So providing an environment where people’s opinions are heard is vital to keeping people engaged.
4.  Not Getting What You Want.   “Wants” are motivators. When people want something, it gives them a reason to move.  Movement in the workplace generally equates to productivity, and one of the quickest ways to kill productivity is to ignore your employees’ wants.  This is not to say that you should give people everything they want – it means we should listen to them and find ways to help people achieve their desires in appropriate ways.  If it is impossible to give someone what they want, tactful education as to the reasons why is always better than a blunt “no.” 
5.  Losing What You Have.  What people possess gives them a sense of security.  Possessions can be tangible (tools, desks, cars) or intangible (position, authority, respect), and their presence helps people stay engaged and productive.  When making decisions, managers do well to consider what a person “has” and therefore “has to lose.”  If someone has to “lose” something for the good of the company, try to find a counter-balance to give them.  The fear of losing what we have can be offset by the hope of a gain elsewhere.  This can be difficult at times, but the effort is usually worth it.
Bottom line, if management wishes to maximize productivity, they need to minimize these five very real human fears.

Interested in more about supervisory skills?  
Check out our Supervisory Skills workshop.

© 2004 Dan Bobinski / Leadership Development, Inc. You may freely forward this information on condition that you send the text as an integral whole along with complete information about its author, date, and source.
Dan Bobinski is President and CEO of Leadership Development, Inc. He can be reached at (208) 375-7606 or by Email at dan@leadershipanswers.com
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