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Overcoming Fear of the Unknown in the Workplace: Strategies for Managers and Employees

Living with uncertainty is a big part of the human experience as a whole and is not much different in the workplace. Whether you are working in the same position for years or are up for a promotion, fear of the unknown can be somewhat debilitating.

For managers and employees alike, there are many times that uncertainty comes into the picture and makes it difficult to take the necessary steps to move forward. Understanding methods and strategies to overcome the fear of the unknown is the only way that you can keep going.

Are you a manager or employee that is struggling with overcoming fear of the unknown? Keep reading to learn tips that you can use to move forward without the fear.

What is the Fear of the Unknown?

Fear of the unknown is defined as an overwhelming feeling of anxiety and worry about things that you have no information about. Even though the world as a whole is filled with uncertainty, many people either thrive or cave when it comes to not knowing what the future holds.

While fear of the unknown and uncertainty are common feelings for most people, for some it can come with more debilitating features. Some of these include anxiety, stress, worry, and the inability to participate in everyday life.

In some cases, the overwhelming fear of the unknown often comes from a traumatic event that has happened in your past. For these people, moving past this fear is much more difficult than it may be for others.

Overall, gaining an understanding of what the fear of the unknown is can help you recognize it when it happens to you. This knowledge can arm you with the tools you need to take control of the fear and move forward with your life and job.

How Can Fear of the Unknown Affect Managers?

For managers who experience the fear of the unknown, it can be difficult to make decisions about the workplace or certain situations. This is especially true during events that come up out of the blue and require quick thinking.

Employees rely on managers to be able to make decisions at a moment’s notice. When fear of the unknown is at play, it can be difficult for managers to do what is necessary to keep the business running smoothly.

Fear of the unknown often affects managers who are relatively new to the position of authority, at least in the beginning. This can lead to either not taking risks that should be taken or not making effective decisions. 

A black woman works on a laptop on the floor.
Fear of the unknown affects employees and managers. 

How Can Fear of the Unknown Affect Employees?

Fear of the unknown is also a common feeling experienced by employees who are either just starting a job or those who get moved to a new position. Whether the new position is a lateral move or a promotion, it can be difficult to overcome the fear.

For employees, many things in the workplace can cause a negative reaction related to fear of uncertainty. Oftentimes, the fear of the unknown can lead employees to lash out at others to the point that management has to get involved to help solve the problem.

Over time, if the fear is not faced or handled properly by the employee who is facing it, it can begin to disrupt the workplace. Keep in mind that this fear often comes from facing something that they have never experienced, so proper training and preparation may help.

Tips for Overcoming Fear of the Unknown for Managers and Employees

If the fear of the unknown is weighing you down, you may need to take steps to figure out what is causing it and find a way to resolve it. This often comes from taking an active role in what is causing the fear and working through it. 

Check out these helpful tips on how you can overcome the fear of the unknown:

1. Put a Label on the Fear

In many cases, when you feel this fear of the unknown, you may not recognize it as fear or may not be sure where it comes from. When this happens, you have to take the time to work through what is causing you anxiety.

Taking the time to stop for a minute to assess what is happening is a great first step in overcoming fear. When you can say to yourself exactly what it is you are afraid of, then and only then can you begin to work through it.

2. Get a Better Understanding of the Fear

Once you have labeled the fear and know where it is coming from exactly, you can begin to try to gain a better understanding of it. To do this, you may have to do a deep dive into your psyche to see what is causing the fear.

Is it coming from not wanting to make a mistake? In most cases, this is true of the fear of the unknown. Not knowing how to do something can create this fear, and the sooner you understand it, the sooner you will be able to get to what you need to do to overcome it.

3. Take Inventory of What You do Know

One of the first actions steps you can take towards overcoming the fear of the unknown is to evaluate what you do know of the situation. While the current situation may be new to you, there may be some parts that are a bit familiar to you.

For example, if you are receiving a job promotion within the same company you have worked for, then while the new job is unfamiliar, take the time to inventory what you do know. Taking the time to jot down what you know about the company and what you have seen previous people in the same position do can help you move past the fear.

4. Identify Factors Within Your Control

Sometimes when you are experiencing fear of the unknown, some factors are within your control and others that are not. Understanding which of them you control can help you push the fear away.

Knowing that there are some factors that you can control gives you a bit of power you did not have before. For some people, it can be just the power they need to find out what else is needed to learn the unknown.

5. Research Your Way Out

If you happen to be in a situation that is completely new and unknown, you may be feeling overwhelmed. This is especially true if there is no one to call on that is in the same or similar situation.

If this is the case, the internet can be your greatest resource to find information about the situation. Whether you are starting a new job or getting a promotion, researching either the company or various job expectations can help you get a grasp on what may be expected of you.

6. Look at the Evidence

In some cases, when fear of the unknown takes over it is important to take a step back and look at the evidence in front of you. Is the fear coming from imposter syndrome? Do you think someone else could do the job better than you?

If you are experiencing these thoughts, your fear of the unknown may be coming from a place within you that thinks you are not good enough. In this case, you need to take a good hard look at whether someone else really could do the job, and remember that you were put in the position, not them.

7. Manage Your Anxiety

Fear of the unknown can lead to a major case of anxiety if you do not get a handle on it right away. When anxiety kicks in it can take over your entire body quickly and begin to cause other problems.

When you notice that you are afraid of the uncertainty of a situation, you need to take the time to nurture your anxiety. This often means that you need to take some time for yourself to do self-care activities to help you relax.

8. Talk to Others Who Can Relate

Whether you are starting a new job or if you just got a promotion to another position, there are likely others who have been in your shoes before. When you feel the fear coming on, you may need to seek out others who can relate to your specific situation.

Other people in similar situations or those that have been in your place before can be a great resource to you. They may be able to give you a different perspective on how you can face the fear and relieve some of your doubt.

9. Embrace Small Risks

Overcoming fear of the unknown often requires you to take steps toward the situation even if you are afraid. Taking small steps that have little risk can go a long way to helping you through the bigger challenges.

If you are a new manager, you may want to start by introducing a small change that will allow you to test the waters. Once you have embraced the small risk, it may lead to taking larger risks down the road.

10. Take the Plunge!

In some cases, the only way to overcome the fear of the unknown is to take the plunge and dive in head first. This means that instead of allowing the fear to hold you back, you face it head-on.

For many people, this is one of the best ways to handle and move past the uncertainty to get to the other side. It does not mean that the fear is not still there, it just does not have a stronghold on you as it did before.

Two eggs are in a carton and have sad faces on them.
There are many negative effects of fear on the body. 

Negative Effects of Fear of the Unknown

What you need to understand about fear of the unknown is that it can cause extremely negative effects that can sometimes be crippling. If you do not take the time to overcome the fear, you can experience negative outcomes as a result.

Here are some of the negative effects that can occur from the fear of uncertainty:

1. Self-doubt

If you are feeling the fear of uncertainty, you are already doubting your ability to handle the situation. Fear means that you do not believe that you can handle the situation and makes you doubt every decision you make.

2. Anxiety

Anxiety can occur when you feel afraid of something and can end up debilitating if you allow it. Every time you face the same or similar situation, your body will automatically produce anxiety that can prevent you from moving forward.

3. Depression

Over time, the self-doubt and anxiety that weighs you down and keeps you from moving forward can lead to depression. When this occurs, you begin to believe that you are truly not capable of doing anything, and can cause you to lose hope in all things.

4. Self-Sabotage

For some people, when they feel fear, even when the situation is a positive one for their future, they allow the fear to take over. Self-sabotage can occur when you are afraid of taking the next step forward and can result in you having to take a step backward instead.

5. Giving up

One of the most severe effects of the fear of the unknown is giving in to it and allowing the fear to win. This results in you giving up, which often results in you walking away from what could be a great opportunity.

Are You Ready to Overcome Your Fear of the Unknown?

Now that you have tools in your toolbox to help you overcome the fear of the unknown, you should be able to take the steps you need to move forward. Whether you are moving into a management position or are an employee in a new job, the fear of the unknown is something you may have to deal with.

For hiring managers and others in the role of onboarding new employees or new managers, you may need to look outside of your toolbox for new ways to inspire others. Doing this can help others transition to their new positions with as few barriers as possible.

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