There are a lot of us out there who live in fear of saying the wrong thing, or offending someone, or worse yet, making ourselves look stupid. But this kind of avoidance can only get us so far for so long, writes Emma Bannister.
I grew up in a family that encouraged me to speak only when spoken to, so as an adult, any form of speaking (even if to a small team) was one of my biggest fears. Luckily, in my chosen career as a designer, I could hide behind my screen and stay silent. And I know I am not alone!
There are a lot of us out there who live in fear of saying the wrong thing, or offending someone, or worse yet, making ourselves look stupid. But this kind of avoidance can only get us so far for so long.
It’s really unhealthy (and stressful) to bury our thoughts, emotions and opinions. We are all created differently for a reason and it’s by sharing our individual perspectives that we can all prosper and shine in work as well as life.
Face it and learn
The only way to get over the fear of being wrong is to face it head on. In Sir Ken Robinson’s 2006 Ted Talk, “Do schools kill creativity?”, he says: “If you're not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”
By the time children reach adulthood, Robinson explains that they are fearful of making mistakes. This carries over into the workplace and stifles the very generation of ideas.
Yet, as Jacob Morgan, head of The Future Organization, says: “If you don’t have an organization where people feel the ability to be vulnerable, to be empathetic, to be themselves, then you are not going to have collaboration.”
So what if you’re wrong? What is the worst that could happen? Will anyone get injured as a result? (No.) Will you lose your job? (No.)
Remember, making mistakes is a healthy part of life, it’s how we as humans learn. So, rather than thinking about all the things that might go wrong, focus on what you might learn as a result.
Create a safe space
Remember, the loudest voice is not always the best solution. It’s important to create a safe space in which everyone (yourself included) can be heard, and ideas shared and implemented. If people always see that their ideas are shut down and not listened to, acknowledged or, even worse, if they are agreed to and then they don’t happen, then those people will stop coming forward. (I’m sure you can relate, in fact, it may even be one reason why you’re fearful of speaking up now.)
When you create safe spaces for everyone, then you will automatically feel safer too. Be the change that you want to lead!
Reframe nerves into excitement
The only difference between fear and excitement is the way you think about it. One of the best tips I ever received was to use to reframe my nerves into excitement and use that energy when I speak. Our bodies are actually gearing up for battle, not for meditation, so if you try and calm down or ignore your nerves, then you’ll actually only make things worse.
Instead, focus on how excited you are - even if at first, you don’t believe it. This can make a huge difference. You will then turn that natural zing you feel into an opportunity to speak and deliver in a way you couldn’t if you were in your comfort zone.
Above all else, remember, what you focus on grows! Don’t focus on the poor outcome you are trying to avoid; instead, picture the positive outcome you most want to create.
Emma Bannister is an author, as well as being the founder and CEO of communication agency Presentation Studio.