Article Snapshot

In the workplace, being driven by “I don’t want to get it wrong” can be beneficial as we are more inclined put in extra effort to get things right. In some areas, this is critical. However, being overly hesitant and critical can have major drawbacks What’s the cost of this perfection?

  •        Poor accountability
  •        Slow decision-making
  •        Innovation attempts stall
  •        Bad news, mistakes and failures are hidden
  •        People play it safe and not take appropriate risks
  •        People ask leaders and experts for solutions rather than think for themselves etc.

Even a recent HBR article referred to “Fear of being found to be incompetent” as the biggest fear for CEOs in “What CEOs are afraid of” by Roger Jones. So many smart people don’t realise their full potential because of this fear of getting it wrong or looking incompetent. How much is your organisation driven by “I don’t want to get it wrong”? How is it benefiting or costing you? As for my daughter, she eventually wrote what she thought with lots of encouragement.

Perfectionism and Humility: Overcoming "I Don't Want to Get It Wrong?"

There’s great value in a level of perfectionism, a focus on excellence and quality, and a healthy dose of paranoia and humility. It’s not helpful when it stops us from contributing the fullness of our talents and strengths, however. This is when the fear of failure voice - “Don’t get it wrong” - takes over our entire being and it can be paralysing. Having this dysfunction myself and having worked with others that do, I’ve noticed a few strategies that work to get over it.

  • Negotiate with the voices: Some of these voices of “Don’t get it wrong” “It’s not good enough yet” “People will think I’m stupid” are quite irrational. Play out these voices and find another part of you – usually the more rational – to debate and negotiate with these voices to turn the volume down. They won’t disappear but we want to stop them from driving us.
  • Put it into perspective: Asking ourselves “What’s the worst that can happen?” as well as “Is the cost of not doing it higher than the cost of having a go?” are great reminders to put things into perspective.
  • Name the feeling and still go ahead: Whether it’s anxiety, worries and even nausea, naming it, or even sharing it with others can help. Then still just go ahead and make the call, say what you need to say, press the send button etc. Every time you do, it gets easier. Susan Jeffers’ “Feel the fear and do it anyway” is a great book, exactly on this strategy.
  • Start small then make sure you go further: If you’re really worried, you can start by taking smaller steps, such as sharing with trusted friends and colleagues first. Key is to not stop there, gain some confidence then take the next step to go further.
  • Be proud of your courage, regardless of outcome: Once you start overcoming the fears, reflect on the fact that you had the courage to have a go. Owning our courage enables us to keep going and do even greater things. Bene Brown, in her talk “Why your critics are the ones who count” says “The credit belongs to those the person who’s actually in the arena, not the critics of those in the arena.”

Helping Employees and Colleagues Get Over "I Don't Want to Get It Wrong"

You have a talented member of the team who holds themselves back because of self-criticism and fear of getting things wrong. How do you help them to express and contribute all of her talents and realise their potential? It is one thing to deal with our own fears however, it’s another thing to help others deal with them. Here are a few strategies that may help.

Help them to negotiate with their voices

You can help by asking the person to say what the voices in their head are saying, play them out and have her debate and negotiate with these voices. It may go something like – “People won’t find it useful.” “How do you know that?” “My ideas aren’t insightful enough.” “That’s just your view. Others may view it differently.”

Ask questions to help them think through it

Well-crafted and timed questions can help to reframe their beliefs and assumptions about themselves and their actions. Examples include:

  • What’s the worst that can happen?
  • What’s the cost if you don’t do it?
  • How would it be for you if you went ahead and it went really well?
  • What might you learn if it didn’t go as you hoped?

Connect with what matters to them

Understand and appreciate what matters to them, so that you can remind her that overcoming whatever they are struggling with is connected to his or her priorities . For example, let’s say you know that an employee cares about the team’s reputation but they are scared of speaking in front of groups. The link is that he or she needs to learn to speak in front of groups so that the team is known and recognised by others in the organisation. What other strategies do you use? How would it benefit you and your organisation if you could help more people overcome “I don’t want to get it wrong”? Let me know in the comments!

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