Fear is ever present in our lives, and work is no exception. Two of the most common fears in the workplace are a fear of failure and a fear of judgment. These fears arise for a variety of reasons. People want to be accepted, do a good job, and be able to provide for themselves and their families; those desires can all result in a fear of failure and a fear of judgment. 

Though not all fear is necessarily bad, a fear of failure can have a multitude of consequences in the workplace. People who fear failure often don’t take the chances and risks that are required to accomplish their goals and dreams. A fear of failure can hold people and teams back from achieving their full potential. 

In our most recent episode of the Team Building Saves the World podcast, we talked to company culture expert Chris Dyer to talk about failure and how embracing it can be a catalyst for innovation. 

On the subject of failure, he said, “If you’re going to go into this game thinking you’re never going to make a mistake, you’re going to get upset when you do and will never get anywhere.”

For today’s blog, let’s take a deeper look at the fear of being judged at work, the fear of failure, and how we can embrace failure to propel us forward in our careers. 

fear of judgement

The Fear of Judgement

To start, let’s look at the fear of being judged. Fear of judgment is actually surprisingly common at work, and it’s something nearly everyone experiences at some point. It can manifest in numerous ways in the workplace, so let’s consider some examples.

Let’s say you have a big project coming up at work. You’ve been assigned this task by your boss, and it’s incredibly important. You know you can get it done right, but you worry that it won’t be good enough and you’ll be judged negatively. That can make you feel paralyzed, like it won’t work out no matter what you do. 

That is a common way for a fear of judgment to come about. People want their coworkers to have positive opinions of them, and they get worried they will be judged for their mistakes. To some degree, this is a reasonable fear. However, we all make mistakes, and we can’t let the fear of a potential mistake stop us from trying. 

Another common way this fear manifests is around creativity and innovation. Being able to share your ideas, good or bad, is an essential part of having a culture of innovation. But many fear that their ideas will be ridiculed. This fear often arises in more toxic work environments where open and effective communication isn’t encouraged.  

All that said, fearing judgment is a natural human tendency. It’s not something you should be ashamed of feeling. However, it is something that can have negative consequences if left unaddressed. If you want to achieve your fullest potential, you’ll have to overcome those fears. 

The Negative Consequences

If you fear judgment, you aren’t alone. It’s an incredibly common thing to experience, but it can have serious negative consequences when allowed to control your life. Let’s look at some of those consequences. 

Missed opportunities are one of the most common and impactful negative consequences of fearing judgment. How it happens is pretty simple; you fear being judged, so you end up passing on potential opportunities. 

For example, your boss offers you a big new project that could help you get promoted if you do well. However, you worry that you won’t do a good enough job and will be judged harshly for your performance. Because of that, you decline and the project goes to someone else. You miss that opportunity solely due to your fear of being judged. 

Another big consequence is stifled creativity. As mentioned earlier, failure is a key part of the creative process. For every great invention and innovation, there is a trash can full of scrapped ideas. If you fear being judged for your potential failures, you’ll never reach your creative potential. 

Shifting to the company as a whole, this obviously has negative effects. If your team members aren’t willing to take risks, be creative, and grow professionally, your company will stagnate alongside them. You need to be constantly improving, innovating, and moving forward, and that’s not possible if everyone fears being judged. 

fear of judgement

Embracing Failure

So, how can we overcome our natural fear of judgment? Surprisingly, one of the best ways is by embracing failure. It may sound backwards, but being able to embrace failure can help you move beyond your fears and reach your full potential. 

Failure is an inevitable part of growth and success. Every new invention, great success, or incredible accomplishment came after weeks, months, or even years of struggle and failure. 

Writer Robert Pirsig was famously rejected by 121 publishing companies before his landmark novel, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, got published. Yet he persevered, and eventually his book became a widely praised classic. 

The most successful companies understand this too. They know that they need to fail before they can succeed, and they embrace those failures. This is something Dyer mentioned in our podcast, highlighting how 3M embracing their failures and learning from them has led to success.

“Most great companies recognize that mistakes and this idea of intentional failure is a part of their DNA and is a part of what they do. 3M is a great example of this… They’re a company who invents, and so they have inventions and experiments. It’s naturally a part of their process to try something and fail. But they document things… So people could learn. So people didn’t have to repeat those [failures].”

Though it can be difficult at first, embracing failure is a necessity if you want to overcome the fear of being judged at work. 

Benefits of Embracing Failure

Before moving onto some strategies for overcoming the fear of judgment, let’s quickly look at some of the benefits of embracing failure. We briefly touched on this in the last section, but let’s dive a little deeper. 

One of the greatest benefits is that failure can lead to personal growth and resilience. If you embrace failure as an inevitable part of the process, you can learn from your mistakes and failures, using them to help you overcome the challenges before you. Through failure, you can learn and develop resilience that will help you grow personally and professionally. 

Another benefit is how it can create a culture of innovation. Like Dyer illustrated with his 3M story above, failure is an inevitable part of innovation. If you can create a workplace that embraces failure, people will be more apt to take risks and get creative without worrying about the outcome. This leads to innovation, which ultimately helps your company succeed. 

Lastly, embracing failure can lead to increased collaboration and teamwork. If your company embraces failure, your team members will be more likely to learn from each other’s mistakes, build upon each other’s ideas, and work together on new things. 

Team building programs can actually be a good strategy for embracing failure. Taking the time to focus on your employees, their wellbeing, and show them that failure should be embraced can have a big impact. Team building can also help increase communication and collaboration, which will also help with being able to embrace failure. 

Strategies for Overcoming the Fear of Judgement

To wrap up, let’s look at some strategies you can try when you’re feeling judged at work and want to overcome those fears. It can be difficult, but it’s doable with the right tools and strategies. 

One of the most impactful things you can do is set an example as a leader. Creating a culture that embraces failure can be a challenge, but it all starts with leadership. As a leader, you have to lead by example and show employees that it’s okay to talk about, learn from, and embrace failure. 

Dyer talked about this during our conversation, noting, “You as their leader have to show up every day and just tell your team how you screwed it all up yesterday or what you did. Keep talking about it and showing them that it’s safe to talk about that… And then that’s a part of the culture.”

Tying into that, you need to create an open and accepting work environment. This will go a long way in encouraging employees to be open about their failures and learn from them instead of being fearful. 

To do so, communication is key. You need to freely communicate with employees about their fears, failures, successes, and goals. When everyone feels safe and comfortable voicing their opinions and experiences, embracing failure is much easier. 

Also, you need to support your employees the best you can. For example, extroverts often get most of the attention in the workplace, but introverts bring value as well. Supporting introverts as well as extroverts shows that you truly care about your employees, regardless of their strengths and weaknesses. 

All of this creates an environment with less fear, making it easier to embrace failure. 

Embrace Failure and Overcome Fear with TeamBonding

A fear of judgment at work can paralyze us, prevent us from taking chances, and keep us from reaching our fullest potential. But through accepting failure as an inevitable part of success, we can overcome our fears and achieve our goals. 

Embrace failure and overcome fear by creating an open and positive work environment with TeamBonding. We have over 25 years of experience putting on corporate events, and we have a huge selection of events that can help you improve employee engagement, satisfaction, communication, leadership, and more. So get in touch with us today and start overcoming your fears!

Anna Webber

Team Contributor


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