If you’re anything like me, there will have been times in your life when you’ve wondered what people think of you, or something that you have done. Maybe these were passing thoughts or maybe they kept you up all night. Having been coaching now about 7 years the majority of the people I work with, in 1:1 and in Group situations, worry about what other people think of them, and it’s often a revelation to these people when they realize that their fear is common amongst their peers, and the people that work in more senior roles.
Fearing what people may think inevitably holds us back, it did for me. Here’s some of the effects that I’ve personally experienced and noticed in my clients:
Procrastination. I used to spend more time thinking about what I was going to do rather than actually doing it. Whether I tied myself in knots about what I was going to say in a conversation or presentation or I’d plan untill there is nothing left to plan so I’d have a sense of control, fearing how you’re going to be judged gives rise to procrastination.
Unhelpful Self Talk. We all have it, we all do it. When we worry about what others think this self talk can get out of control and affect our confidence in any given situation. For me, this would always come up around conflict. Or more accurately what I perceived to be conflict. If I thought that I had upset someone or done something ‘wrong’ I could spend hours analyzing it in my head and beating myself up about it. I would regularly blow things out of proportion and as a result just shut down and clam up – not particularly helpful for resolution!
Prevents Action. If we worry too much about what people are going to think of what we might say or do it can stop us from taking the action in the first place. This is unhelpful on many levels, not only have we wasted the time thinking about it, but we’re also getting in our own path to success. Over the years I’ve spent many hours coming up with new ideas only to put them on the back burner after I’d ‘slept them off’. I would literally disregard all the hard work, effort and research I’d put into something based on a worry of how something might be perceived.
Energy. It’s tiring worrying about what people think all the time. Quite simply, your energy can be better spent elsewhere.
It’s all too easy to think that ‘successful’ people don’t have these fears, but it’s what makes us human. Considering the impact that we have on others is a quality of our humanity. It makes us thoughtful, emphatic and considerate. We don’t want a world full of people that have no concern for how others will experience their company. So it’s about balance. It’s about having a helpful internal dialogue of how others perceive you. I think I have this balance now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not flawless. I have moments where my old habits die hard but on the whole I think I strike it about right. Here are my top tips for bringing your fear of judgement back under control:
1: Start with yourself
Take a look at how you judge others. How quickly do you make judgements about people? How long do these judgements last for? How easily do you change your opinion on people? The way in which you judge others will have a direct impact on the way that you think you will be judged. If you make quick, snap judgements that you rarely change you are likely to be more concerned about others than if you give time and space to building relationships, and keeping an open mind about people. When I took a long hard look at myself I’m ashamed to say that I used to be pretty judgemental. Just realizing this was enough for me to change this habit.
2. Realise that you really aren’t that important (Note – said in jest!!!)
Most people will not go home thinking about how you stuffed up the opening to your presentation, or spend the next week gossiping about a comment that you made in a meeting. Like you worrying about the things that you’ve said and done, most people are busy doing the same thing. It’s likely that the things you take home with you at the end of the day don’t even feature in the minds of the people you surround yourself with. AND if you find this concept hard to grasp again take a look at point 1. How much unhealthy gossip do you engage in? Can you be more forgiving of others?
3. Take control back
Unhelpful internal voices are draining. but, whilst it may not be easy, recognize that it is your voice. Ok so it may not actually be your voice, for a lot of people it’s the voice of a controlling parent or teacher, or someone who has had a significant influence in their upbringing, but it’s in your head and you are in the driving seat. Practise changing the tone, tempo and volume of the internal voice. Make it sound like Kermit the Frog or Elmo. The more you ‘play’ with this voice the more you’ll realize you are in control of it. Then try to limit the amount of unhelpful self talk you engage in. Better still, pay attention, notice when you are doing it and talk back “Thank you but this is not helpful to me”.
4. Find the positive intention
Whilst an out of control fear of judgement is unhelpful and often no fun to live with, it often has a positive intention. Perhaps it’s to keep you safe, or to stop you embarrassing yourself. If you can identify the positive intention you can challenge whether that’s relevant or not. For me, there was an underlying question of ‘what if people don’t like you’, so fearing judgement was for me about avoiding rejection. Recognising this enabled me to examine situations for what they were. Was I going to get rejected by talking to someone new in a social situation – unlikely- most people are kind. Was I going to get rejected by going for a job interview, possibly yes, so what could I do to increase my chacnes of success. What could I do if I did get rejected?
5. Debrief with someone
Find a trusted confidant who you can debrief with. If it’s reassurance you need to put your thoughts away then be explicit and ask for it. Getting your thoughts out in the open about a particular event either before or after it’s happen can help you get perspective. This was really useful for me and offloading is something I still practice today. It helps me to learn from a situation and turn it into something positive rather than the focus remaining on what didn’t work.
6. Tackle what lies beneath
If you believe that at your core you are a good person then you have a strong foundation upon which to take more risks. Yes you may say something controversial, yes you might accidently upset someone, yes you might make a hash of your strategy meeting but ultimately if you believe you’re a good person then you’ll be able to process these events with the perspective they deserve. A good coach will be able to help you to identify, tackle and change unhelpful, limiting beliefs.
7. What would you do if you weren’t the centre of your world?
Ok so this one is a little tongue in cheek, but for me, everything changed when I had children. Now we can’t all do that so it’s pretty unhelpful of me to suggest it. But what would happen if you weren’t the centre of your world. Having children for me changed the way that I thought about myself. Suddenly I realized that I was a role model to my children and I needed to behave in ways which would encourage and inspire them to take action. What does this mean in this context though? I stopped thinking so much about what other people thought of me because I became more concerned with others. I got out of my own head, and in doing so learnt to care a little bit less – in a healthy way mind :-)
For those of you on a journey with this, I hope you have found this article helpful. You have the power to choose who you want to be and if you need help in getting there please contact us at In Good Company www.igcompany.co.uk firstname.lastname@example.org. We also train people to be coaches, and/or develop coaching skills so if you work with others as a line manager, in HR or in some other capacity and would like the skills to be able to support people with barriers like this again please look us up.
Many thanks for reading. (and I’m not even worrying too much about what you think….. well maybe a little….)