Practical Steps to Conquer Fear and Feel More Confident at Work

Written by T. Marino

March 14, 2021

How many of us can relate to the pressure of pleasing a demanding boss?

We walk into work (or “log on,” in a remote work world), and we’re fearful of making mistakes, receiving negative feedback… or getting fired. What do these fears have in common? At the end of the day, it comes down to a fear of failure.

Our fears influence our thoughts and our actions. Recently, I wrote about how our fears sabotage our romantic relationships. [“Three Strategies to Keep Fear From Destroying Your Relationship”] When we allow fear to take root and control our thoughts, our fears become reality.

Not at work, we think.

But our fear of failure triggers our pride. We’re afraid to look like we don’t know what we’re doing. And as a result, we stop doing the things that make us successful. We stop asking questions. We stop seeking feedback. Our work suffers.

I give many of my clients the same piece of advice: Don’t be so afraid to hold onto a job, that you lose it.

What should you do when fear impacts your work performance? Let me share some practical steps to help you combat your fears in the workplace.

  1. Don’t make assumptions about what others think of you or your work. 

We get ahead of ourselves when we make assumptions about others’ opinions or reasons. We tell ourselves all sorts of untruths about our coworker’s behavior (“he doesn’t like me”), a delayed response (“she hates the idea”), or why we’ve been passed over for a promotion (“my boss doesn’t think I’m good enough”).

You shouldn’t fear something that hasn’t actually happened. Our imaginations often conjure up much worse outcomes than reality. A coworker may be having a bad day. Your supervisor may have some constructive feedback for you on a work-in-progress. If you want to know why your boss passed you over for the promotion, ask.

Fear wants us to believe the worst. Don’t fall for it. Stay grounded in reality and in what you know to be true. As they say, “when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me.”

  1. Ask additional questions to clarify expectations.

You need to understand what your boss expects from you. Questions are not a bother, but an indication that you take your work seriously and want a clearer picture of the task at hand. If you don’t know what’s expected of you, how are you supposed to meet those expectations?

We need a rubric so we can grade ourselves accordingly. If you’re fearful about a new assignment, ask your boss, “What is your vision for this project?” Be sure to understand what the boss is looking for so you’re clear on how to deliver. If you’ve made mistakes, and you’re fearful of losing your job, be brave enough to ask, “How do I need to improve, and what steps can I take to get there?”

Your team wants to give you answers. Your success is their success. When you ask questions, you give others the opportunity to explain themselves, and you give yourself a better shot at success.

  1. When you’re stuck, identify what you need in order to take the next step. 

So you’ve asked clarifying questions and you understand what’s expected of you. Even still, sometimes we feel “stuck,” and it could be for any number of reasons. At this point, it’s ok to pause and ask yourself, “What do I need?” What do you fear most, and what would help you alleviate that fear? Is it validation that you’re heading in the right direction? Is it more time with the team to hash out ideas?

Maybe you need to schedule a quick meeting or phone call with your coworkers. Maybe you need early feedback on your work. Ask your boss to take a look at your progress and let you know if you’re on track. One of two things will happen, either your boss gives you (1) constructive criticism, or (2) peace of mind that you’re doing a great job. Realistically, there’s nothing to fear from the former, because now you understand where you’ve veered off course (which in turn provides clarity for the project), and you have time to fix it.



Fear will hurt your performance at work.

We often know what we need to do, but we allow our fear to keep us from doing it. When we’re fearful of disappointing our coworkers or falling short of our boss’ expectations, we stop asking questions and seeking much-needed clarification. We don’t invite collaboration or feedback, two important aspects of the learning process.

When you fear for your job, you are merely “surviving” rather than “thriving.” We are defensive and reactionary when we’re in “survival mode,” rather than proactive. Take responsibility and hold yourself accountable. Follow the steps I’ve outlined in this post to get out of your own head and move forward with confidence. At work, you’ve got a job to do. Don’t let your fear keep you from doing it, and doing it well.

If fear is getting the best of you at work and you need someone to talk to, feel free to get in touch.   As a Executive Coach and Life Coach, it’s my mission to help high achievers embrace their truth to create balance and discover the power in their choices.