HR; the fear filled profession?

At the end of January I was lucky enough to be able to attend the L&D Connect unconference in London. One of the questions we debated was; ‘what is and should be bothering L&D?’. Within this post, I am also suggesting that this should be bothering our wider profession, HR.

I suggest(ed) that we need to be bothered about the impact that Fear is having on us as individuals and in turn what this may mean for our profession. If you read my last blog Emotions; the antithesis of soft & fluffy you will be more aware of the power that I believe emotions have on our lives. It is also fair to say that I think Fear is all too prevalent in our profession and in organisational culture(s) at the moment.

Let me give some examples. The following points run the risk of generalisation and if you are outside of these generalisations, please, please reply and comment below. So, the possible generalisations:

– We are being asked to do more with less; so we worry (mild fear) that this will affect the quality of what we do.
– Learning and social technologies are becoming more and more inherent in what we do and a focus for our profession; this means we are frightened (more intense fear) of being left behind and/or letting go and having less control.
– The focus on showing the returns (on investment or expectation) for our efforts, energies and budgets is increasing; we are apprehensive (more fear) about how (or if) we will be able to do this (especially as we have less resource – see above point).
– There are more external providers/consultancies supplying similar services; if we are within a company that engages these suppliers we are anxious (yep, more fear) that we choose the right one. Or, if we are one of these providers we are nervous (fear again) that our services will not match up to others or the clients wants/needs.
– That the economy is still fragile; we are scared (stronger fear) about no longer being needed, being made redundant and the impact this may have on our lives.

Bearing in mind that the function of Fear is to identify any ‘threat of harm’ then it is easy to see how all of these things, present and common in our contexts can trigger this particular emotion.

When we are faced with a predator hunting or something heading in our direction at speed then this emotion can save our lives. What if I put forward that the same emotional response is happening in our professional lives and in reaction to the stimulus discussed above. Is the emotion helping or hindering us here?

Let me be clear, we need Fear. It is our innate fear of snakes and/or spiders that have allowed our species to survive as long as it has thus far. We are not discussing snakes and spiders in this post.

What I am saying is that we have a learned evolutionary response that tells our brains and bodies to do certain things in response to something that may cause us harm. The ‘Freeze’ response is a an example of one of these responses (the evolutionary reason is that predators are more attracted to movement, being still makes us less noticeable). The freeze response also allows us to take in more information with a view to analysing this information to further assess the threat (hence the phrase paralysis by analysis).

Next we need to layer on top of this our awareness of what happens while we are experiencing an emotion. If we are in the grip of an emotional episode (for consistency let’s say Fear) then we are actively and purposefully (rarely consciously) looking for things that reinforce and validate that emotion.

This can mean that we then start to see threats of harm all around us. We become more still, more fearful and run a serious risk of misinterpreting things around us.

I will say for the second time, we need fear. Without it we put ourselves at perilous risk.

What we do need to do is manage this better. Notice that we are feeling fearful, name the action or activity that brought the emotion forth, make a conscious evaluation and decision about the size, scope and implications of the threat. Then (and maybe only then) can you make an informed decision about what action to take.

How fearful are you?

What awareness or consciousness do you have on fear?

How does it affect you?



8 responses to “HR; the fear filled profession?

  1. Well.. I’m slightly afraid of your photo…

    For me, this is a longer conversation… but elements of it are – When I feel fearful, I try to sit with that feeling and check out what it is trying to tell me… am I being rash, rapid, random? in which case, I’m glad it’s there to slow me down. Or am I about to start something new, edgy and unknown? In which case, I get why my fear is there, but it might be inhibiting more than helping… so can I kind of side-step it a bit, in the hope it catches up with my brave.
    So it is a dynamic process… as with all emotions. Don’t emotional states generally show up for a reason? – mostly to protect and serve, but sometimes they derail and overwhelm… which I guess is reiterating one of the blog points.

    How fearful am I? I think I walk at the less-fearful end of the scale. I like leaps of faith and the adrenaline that comes before something unknown and scary. I know if I walk into a tough conversation, afraid that something bad is going to happen to me, it usually does. If I can hold the belief that I have the resources to work within the tough conversation and be less fearful? That usually happens too.

    As I’ve said before, I think this is rich and important work – being able to talk about emotions and understand they are important, functional, inevitable ( and not to be fearful of them…) is just… kind of vital really.

    So thanks again, Phil… I like this stuff!

    ON a random note, one of my Dialogue folk told me recently that

    • Hi Julie,

      It is a longer conversation and I am so pleased that:

      A) you are open to having that conversation
      B) that you are already thinking about how it affects you and have strategies for managing it
      C) you have taken the time to comment

      Yes, emotional states show up for a reason. Either an evolutionary one or a learned one. They are there to save our lives and regularly do. You are also right, there are times they derail and overwhelm.

      The question(s) to answer next are:

      What brought the emotion forth? Was the intensity and/or duration appropriate to the stimulus? What is there to learn for next time?

      Thank you for the compliment and I whole heartedly agree, the work is rich, important and there is still a lot to do.

      No thanks required, just doing what I believe in and my bit to help the emotional balance in people, teams, organisations, countries and the world! (Maybe one day anyway)

      Speak soon


  2. After over twenty years in the L&D/HR arena, but having come into the profession from a completely different background and ambition, I still find myself in fear of being ‘found out’, despite my track record to date. I manage to handle this because I’ve learned not to listen to my Critical Parent ego state, but it’s hard work sometimes! Great post Phil and good to meet you at the L&D Connect Unconference. Sorry it’s taken me so long to read and respond to this excellent blog.

    • Hi Niall. Thank you for the comment & no worries on the delay, that you have done so is great.

      There are a few I know that come from a ‘fear of being found out’ perspective and it helps keep them firmly grounded. By the sounds of it you are aware of and manage that fear really well, good for you.

      The more we can do to drive up individuals:

      awareness of fear
      that it can save us
      how (if we are not careful) it can get us into trouble

      The better.

      Thanks again for commenting.

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