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Why you should ditch fear for trust

Joan Kingsley

Man falling into pit of sharks

Joan Kingsley, organisational psychotherapist and author, suggests how you can use trust in your organisation as an antidote to fear

Throughout history, organisations have run on fear; and although the twenty-first century has seen a whole host of management theories come to light, what is still yet to change is the use of fear by leaders and managers to keep order and motivate.

Trust in an organisation is created through building and maintaining good relationships. Companies are often at fault for failing to encourage the development of collegial relationships within their organisations. Instead, energy and focus is spent focusing on survival. Without good relationships, trust quickly breaks down and instead a culture of fear prevails.

Neuroscience has now provided an insight into the effect of working under fear, and it has proven to be an unhealthy and ultimately destructive factor which only has a negative effect on the quality of employees work.

Understanding our basic emotional motivators

Research has shown us that there are eight basic emotions that are responsible for all human actions. Fear is one of five emotions related to ‘survival’ in the face of danger (along with anger, disgust, shame and sadness). As it is designed to ensure safety, fear is the emotion that is most easily triggered.

Just two of the eight are related to ‘attachment’ – these are excitement/joy and trust/love. The last of the eight emotions is surprise which can take you towards either ‘survival’ or ‘attachment’ depending on the circumstance (surprise/horror or surprise/delight).

When the attachment emotions are prevalent, the human brain is able to work at full capacity. Having been ridden of the distraction of looking out for danger we are able to focus entirely on the job in hand. Efficiency and productivity increase and the leader is easily able to guide the organisation into action to deliver the business.

The presence of joy/excitement in the workplace encourages people to use their energy in an innovative, fun way. In combination with trust/love, genuinely unique work can be produced, along with trusting, positive relationships.

Fear at work is destructive

It is important for leaders to recognise that triggering fear to motivate people, although relatively easy, is extremely counter-productive and invariably destructive for both people and businesses. It causes stress which can cost companies money and time dealing with the damage done to employees. Companies who depend on fear are usually inefficient, non-competitive and uninventive.

Organisations running on fear are all too common. Ideally, all HR systems should be designed to take into account the powerful role emotions play at work This means, organisationally, that individuals know they are welcomed and respected as individuals, can make honest mistakes, can expect support for recovering from those mistakes, and can see their work as part of their own life’s journey. This will allow them to continuously offer the organisation the best of themselves.

As for how exactly to achieve these aims, initiatives have ranged from reducing working hours to providing fresh fruit and coffee. Some companies offer free massages, introduce ping pong tables to the recreation areas or even used additional training for leaders to improve their communications sing social media.

Methods that focus on triggering attachment emotions to build trust and excitement for individuals at work will result in happier staff, and will consequently improve productivity, employee engagement and staff retention.

Joan Kingsley is an organisational psychotherapist and together with Dr Paul Brown and Dr Sue Paterson, wrote The Fear-Free Organisation: Vital Insights from Neuroscience to Transform your Business Culture, a pioneering new book that draws attention to the need for senior staff to appreciate how fear may be ruling their organisations and how this is affecting their teams, prohibiting the development of new ideas, creativity and unlimited potential. The Fear-Free Organisation is available from £29.99 from all good booksellers and the Kogan Page website 


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