Don’t panic, boss wants to talk to you

Get Over the Fear to Become an Active Team Builder

“I need to talk to you. Can you come to my office at 4 pm?”

I don’t know how you would react to this, but if my boss came over to my table and summoned me like that, it would scare the hell out of me. Did I make some mistakes? Should I go over what I did yesterday? We don’t know for sure what this is about. It could be nothing, but it could be anything as well. A statement like that is filled with ambiguities. Without anything to shield us from the worst-case fear, we end up consumed by it.

The bosses may not have realized it, but it’s true that their words, however insignificant, could have a disproportionate impact on their subordinates. Such a phenomenon, that the words of those with rank and power loom large over those with less status and authority, is what Columbia Business School professor Adam Galinsky called power amplification effect in his New York Times essay.

Fear of unknown a natural human instinct

As for such a fear, it could be partially explained away by the simple fact that we humans have always been scared of the unknown. That’s what scares us, we don’t know what it will lead to. We are not able to anticipate its possible consequence. For that lack of anticipation, we have a natural tendency to fear for the worst.

However, things rarely happen without any telltale warning. People usually have an inkling of what’s on the horizon.

So first and foremost, we need to understand that fear of unknown is a natural human instinct. It’s a critical acknowledgment, since by staring squarely into its universality we would at least be able to stop it from becoming an overwhelming hysteria. That would be the first step in the direction of ultimately figuring out its root cause and combating it.

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Build your confidence and become a team builder

At first glance, all those fears and worries seem to grow from insufficient communication.

In a business culture that values honesty and fairness, the employee would directly ask the boss what’s the issue at hand, thus be spared of the jitters of waiting in fear. And accordingly, if a boss could be promptly reminded that the ongoing absence of visionary guidance would only exacerbate the sense of crisis among the team, he or she would understandably come out with an voice to stabilize the team.

But that’s not the end of the issue. The boss remains the boss, the employee remains frightful of the former’s punitive power.

At the core of such employee fright is not just the hierarchical imbalance but also an participatory imbalance. The employee needs to upgrade her or his role in the team, to transcend from a passive implementor merely following the boss and always fearing a tantrum at any moment.

By taking greater responsibilities, each and every one could have a chance to become a task owner, to be in charge of a project’s progress, to initiate a team discussion with confidence. Such a collective participation builds an atmosphere of shared experiences that blur the authority ranks among the team.

The boss is still the boss, but the project ownership gets fluid and everyone has a chance to say “Hey, I need to talk with you about something.”

Ok, no big deal.

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