The Fear

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    Welcome to Edition 28 of the Humanity Working newsletter! This time – Facing your fears at work, and what Sticky Floors mean to all of us.

    The Only Thing We Have to Fear….

    This week I will spend at least a few hours feeling deeply scared, almost terrified. I know that it will happen, and I know there is little I can do about it, at least in the short term.

    So, what exactly am I afraid of ?

    The answer is NETWORKING – AKA talking to people I barely know.

    Yes, the subtle art of small talk, turning complete strangers into acquaintances that might end up as customers, business partners, or even friends. This week I’m at the EpicHR conference in Las Vegas. I have never met anyone here in person, and yet in a couple of hours I’ll be stepping into a dreaded “mixer” with hundreds of other people in the same boat, all looking to make connections. And it’s not just business networking I struggle with. Parties scare the living daylights out of me.

    Yes, I know that’s kind of silly – but what phobias are not? Many of us are terrified of flying despite the fact that we are far more likely to die driving to the airport than on the plane. My mother is seriously afraid of snakes, even though she knows that if one killed her, she would be only the 15th person in the UK to die from a snake bite in the last 100 years.

    For a whole bunch of reasons, lots of us are deeply afraid of at least one thing. But phobias can be way more challenging when we have to face them as part of our daily work.

    As the lead representative of my company, I have to network whether I like it or not. So three years ago I talked to some experts to help me figure out how to handle the fear. With the strong caveat that I’m not a medical professional, here are the most important points I picked up.

    1. Self-Curiosity is your friend – Being self-curious often seems like an indulgence. Should you really be focusing on your own thoughts and feelings when there are so many other issues in the world? But it turns out that understanding yourself can help you rationalize your fears. In my case, I’m introverted, but that doesn’t make me afraid of social interaction in itself. The main cause of my fear is a form of face blindness, which means pretty much every time I meet someone I’m not sure if I already know them. As a result, I could upset or irritate others, and they could take advantage of me. In every new interaction I’m slightly out of control, and that’s scary.
    2. Relaxation helps – Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and mindfulness do work, particularly when combined with gradual exposure. In my case I gradually increase my exposure to social situations, consciously relax before and after these situations, and remind myself that the consequences of the exposure is really not so bad.
    3. It’s a long game – I’ve been actively working on my fear of networking for several years now. Am I now less scared of it? I’m don’t think so. But over time I’ve gradually learned to match the fear with my determination. That’s come from consistent work, week after week, month after month.

    Let’s face it, phobias suck. Yet they are also part of being human. We cannot eliminate them, but learning how to manage them helps us not only manage our immediate fears, but makes us more adaptable and resilient overall.


    Glass Ceilings, Sticky Floors

    You’ve almost certainly heard of Glass Ceilings, but what about a Sticky Floors? The term has actually been around for a while, and is typically used to describe barriers that impede upward mobility and career advancement, particularly for marginalized or underrepresented groups in the workforce.

    Erica Rooney has been working on a book about Glass Ceilings and Sticky Floors (due out later this year), and she brings a really interesting perspective to the concept, focusing particularly on women in the workplace. In her work, Erica has dialed in on how limiting beliefs and toxic behaviors can make floors particularly sticky.

    Erica sat down with me for a chat about this on our Humanity Working podcast. It was a really interesting discussion, and I even found examples of my own limiting beliefs from it. Well worth a listen on your favorite podcasting platform, or if you are more visual, check out the video below.

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