This blog is about fear. Not fear of spiders (although that’s real —they’ve got 8 legs worth of bad attitude) but a more insidious fear that is ever-present in our organizations: fear of rejection.

Here’s how it works: we all want to be valued for our competence, respected for our hard work, or liked by others. When we feel like others don’t value us, we feel this fear of rejection—a basic instinct that is deep down and hard-wired into us.

Ten thousand years ago, being rejected from our village meant death. Nowadays, being rejected doesn’t mean death, but we still react in primal ways. If others don’t value us, we may be rejected by our organizations, jobs, relationships, or bridge clubs… and it scares us.

Before I started working on myself, I never thought of myself as being afraid. I naively said “other people feel fear, not me.” After a little reflection and a boat load of self awareness, I realized not only do I feel fear, but it is with me all the time. It doesn’t often show up as fear per se—sometimes it’s anger, sometimes crankiness, sometimes as negative self-talk or daydreams about how bad things are—but mostly, it shows up as anxiety. I fret and worry and go round and round in my head feeling worse and worse.

Fear, and its little brother anxiety, sap our energy and reduce our ability to take chances. They distort facts and distract us from what really matters in our lives. In some ways, fear is the plague of modern organizations. How much negative energy do our people spend wallowing in worry?

If we want to drive up performance and productive effort, we must find ways to drive fear out of our organizations. The following are a few tips on how to recognize and reduce fear in yourself and others:

  1. Pay attention to your own negative thoughts and self-talk. They are often clues that you are not feeling valued and at some level, are worried about being rejected.
  2. Recognize what triggers your fear and name it—strong negative emotions are great clues to follow. When you recognize your triggers, you reduce the hold they have on you.
  3. Fill in communication gaps. Without information, we often fill the gap with the worst possible explanation. I’m not sure why, but “horribilizing” seems to be a favorite organizational past time.
  4. Be transparent—share early and often. People don’t fear the known but they light the torches and bring out the pitch forks when they sense uncertainty about the future.



Tom Epperson

Tom Epperson

Dr. Tom Epperson is the President of InnerWill, and an instructor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Executive MBA program. Tom is a certified business coach and has a Doctorate in Leadership from The George Washington University. Tom works with clients on cultural transformation, leadership development, executive coaching, and igniting individual and organizational potential. Previously, Tom served as the HR Director for Luck Companies, and played a significant role as one of the architects of Luck Companies’ cultural transformation.

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