In all the management books I’ve read and all the professionals I speak with, there’s one element of all of the good intent stuff that just doesn’t seem to be addressed: The Fear.

When presented with an anonymous situation — say, a friend of yours who has a colleague who always shows up late — it’s easy to see the “right” thing to do: Call out your colleague directly and tell them what impact their tardiness is having on the impression they make in the office.

But of course it’s never that easy. If you were in your friend’s shoes, there are a million reasons why you might not want to say something:

  • You want your colleague to like you
  • You should have more important things to worry about
  • You tell yourself you shouldn’t be messing in other’s people’s work affairs
  • You’ve already mentioned it to their manager (and nothing happened, so clearly it’s not a big deal anyway)
  • You’re not their manager (just a person they see all the time whose desk sits closest to them) and therefore have no right to offer that feedback
  • You’re hardly the most important person in the office (like, at all), so by interjecting yourself in this way, you’re only setting yourself up for potential future failure, discontent, and a distrustful work environment that will forever cause you anxiety and jeopardize every future job that you’ll ever want in your life from this point forward

You may outsmart yourself and call this rationalization. But let’s just be honest for a second and call it what it is: Fear.

Rather than step up, own it, and put yourself (and your emotional health) at ease by saying the thing you need to say, you hold it in. You keep it to yourself. And then, week after week, month after month, your tiny grievance about tardiness becomes a bigger grievance and you start to resent everything about that person, from the way they dress to the way they submit their project proposals, and you feel like, no matter where you’re at with them, you just can’t be honest (lest they know) and you spend the entire workday on pins and needles out of fear that they “catch on” to your discontent, all the while ignoring the people closest to you who you once considered your allies but you now barely spend time getting to know.

Is this really how we want to be spending 8–12 hours a day? Living in constant dread and anxiety over the people we spend most of our time with?

News flash: This behavior isn’t healthy. Nor is it sustainable. And for every minute of time that you spend fretting about another person’s behavior (or lack thereof), this is a minute that you aren’t spending operating at your peak performance. There’s an opportunity cost to this. There are hours in the day that might just disappear, resulting in real dollars lost in how the business is run.

So how do we stop it? We don’t give in to fear. We confront it.

Tonight I got together with several friends to discuss a recent management book we all read: Radical Candor. Through this two-hour discussion, we surfaced many topics, ranging the gamut from your current at-work nuisances to the nightmare scenarios you thought only existed in The Office. But one thing was clear: For each question, challenge, or problem that was surfaced, the other voices in the room provided a clear sense of objectivity that occasionally disarmed the storyteller.

Several consistent themes emerged through our discussion:

“…well have you tried this?”

“Something that’s been working for me is…”

“One time, in that situation, I did…”

“That’s one way to phrase it. Instead I might try…”

True, it’s always easier to offer an opinion to somebody else’s problem. But it’s also easier to say the hard thing when you aren’t attached emotionally. And, speaking personally, it’s only when I can move past that part— that fear of confrontation — that I can begin to have a more heightened dialogue to foster a healthy and productive confrontation.

Candor breeds trust. If we can’t get over the scary bits of saying the thing that needs to be said, we’ll all get ourselves stuck. As it turns out, you may have to push through the fear to get through to the other side. But it seems like it’s worth it.

Written by

GM @USV, alum of @StackOverflow and @NorthwesternU, board member at @CompSci_High and @NUalumni, co-founder of #BeyondCodingNYC

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