For the past twenty-six years, a major insurance company has been carrying out a large study on Germans’ fears. The top ten fears varied from year to year but the general trend shows that German’s fears are comparatively far higher than the normal level. This typical German hesitancy has even become an international term, “German angst”. Why have Germans internalized fear to such an extent?
Fear is actually a healthy, ancient instinct that is meant to protect us from new things. It is a warning sign not to eat mysterious red berries or not to pat the cute saber tooth tiger. Because in the stone age, curious people probably did not live very long. These days, our basic needs for survival are satisfied. By global comparison, Germans have excellent living standards. Even the unemployment quota is one of the lowest in Europe. However, the Neanderthal hidden deep inside us still reacts to new things with fear.
What does this mean for the workplace?
Transferring this to the modern world, we might think that someone who has a lot also has a lot to lose. But preferring to do nothing instead of doing something wrong can catapult a VUCA world into the modern workplace quicker than your inner bunny starts to tremble. VUCA describes a world that is characterized by:
To put it briefly: nothing stays the same or more philosophically “everything flows” because the world is constantly changing.
Disruption! Save yourselves…
No matter where you work, it’s not secure! If that sounds like a threat, keep reading. You obviously consider security an aspirational condition. A cozy comfort zone in which you reach your goal without too much effort, maybe thanks to routine and experience. Now here’s the big shock: security is an illusion.
Disruption is a catchphrase that causes the business world to break out in a cold sweat, according to the media. However, it is more an example of how important it is to get your fear of the unknown under control. Traditional markets will be mixed up and turned upside-down again. Books are declared over – and then not any more. Robots are supposed to take our jobs. Giant companies are disappearing and new global players are emerging from nothing. But even in smaller circles, permanent changes are occurring. A new system is being implemented, advanced machinery is being developed, and complex work profiles are created. So it should be clear to us: We can no longer rely on our foresight and experience.
What are you scared of?
This is where a lot of us flounder. Experience gives us retrospective security and causes us to develop routines that don’t let us look left or right. Your profession as you know it now will have a completely different profile by the time you go into retirement, if it even exists at all. Innovations and changes will become more and more a part of everyday life. Anyone who opposes this change with the learned pattern of foresight and fear will fall by the wayside.
This is because fear makes us cautious, which isn’t bad in itself, but it prevents us from approaching new things positively and openly. This way we limit our horizons and our actions, therefore putting on our own creativity brakes. Of course, in work life there is the fear of losing your job, streamlining or personal failure. If you take a closer look then you can specify three large areas of fear that should be considered more carefully to be able to get at them with more focus.
Fear of the unknown
A new task has to be assigned, the boss is changing or a system update is pending? Our first reaction is normally rejection. Why? Because our brain is programmed like that. All processes where we have experience and where we have developed a routine run automatically in our heads. And it’s good this way. It would take a lot of time if we had to learn everything new every morning, how to tie our shoes or get to work. Our brain is economical. Everything new needs more energy to process. That’s why an unknown input will fetch the result: it is too hard. So we leave it be and stick to what we know.
Such reactions hinder progress in an ever-changing world. Become aware of this action/reaction situation before you say “no” next time. Is it just a habit? Due to fear of the unknown? Will something really happen to you if you say yes? Of course, it takes more energy – but maybe you will learn something new, something exciting that helps you develop?
A “yes” to a new situation will always bring you forward. A “no” stops innovation before it starts. Try it! It doesn’t have to be on your next big project, start small: maybe in your private life, with your children, when you’re shopping or at the gym. Your brain will be annoyed at first – but it will get used to it. And then you can get started with the big yeses.
Fear of change
Fear of the unknown is closely connected with fear of change. Changes take us out of our routine. They normally come from outside influence and are out of our hands, which just makes them even more uncomfortable. Change processes in businesses, changing legislation and differing markets are only small examples that we encounter at work from day to day. We are glad to be able to control what we do and we like to plan what we do. The psychoanalyst and psychologist Ruth Cohn summed it up well: every plan must be wrong because all factors cannot be known. No matter how well organized we are, changes happen and they can’t be planned for. Obstacles will get in the way that can’t be predicted, the weather might play up or destiny will strike. The only constant is change and that means that we often have to dare to jump into the unknown. We can’t change this fact, but we can change out attitude to it. Yes, it takes energy and yes, mistakes will happen. You should plan for them as well, because otherwise your fear of failure will bring you down.
Fear of failure
This is a very modern fear. The fridge is full, you’re physically healthy and there is a roof over your head. What could break us down now is personal failure. It doesn’t look like something is about to go wrong in society. We strive for perfectionism. Because when everything else goes down the drain, frustration and shame don’t. Fear of losing face, your image or your job is a real and paralyzing fear.
This is why a positive culture around mistakes is imperative. Let’s assume the best of everyone, that they all do their job as well as possible. First off, mistakes are uncomfortable, but upon second consideration, they offer valuable chances to learn something. What is important is that errors are not covered up and that they can be made useful through good error management by the business. Results are traditionally the target of experiments. Every unsuccessful structure provides information on the path to the goal.
Only when mistakes are accepted as a part of the whole and lose their bad reputation can businesses develop innovations and be successful in the long term
What can we do?
Zero in on your inner fear – grab the bunny by the ears. Be aware of why you are afraid of a situation. Is it a justified fear or just a repeating pattern keeping you trying new things? Consciously dealing with spontaneous reactions can help reveal routine and trigger our inner handbreaks. Trust your common sense and check your first reactions when a discrepancy from the plan brings you to a halt. Maybe a step in the wrong direction will be useful and open up new paths and fresh perspectives? If you manage to keep your mind flexible when making these decisions, then you have a good chance of staying in the flow.
- Don’t just reflexively say no to new things
- Plan for failure – it’s going to happen when you try new things and it’s not going to kill you.
- Mistakes are chances to learn on the path to long-term success.
- Keep your mind flexible and let curiosity overcome your fears. It helps you move forward and have fun!