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Conquering fear at work

I recently did something which really surprised me.

I held a tarantula...

I am just waiting for your gasps of admiration and applause.

I know that this may not be much to some of you, and to others, it may sound like the most ridiculous thing that I could possibly want to do. Although, I wouldn’t quite go so far as to say that I wanted to do it.

I don’t have a dreadful phobia of spiders, but I think I would say that I really am not keen. I would struggle to actually look at some of the rather large specimens in the tropical house at the zoo, and I would never, never touch a spider, even a house spider.

So, what on earth was I thinking? I was recently working at the Showman’s show in Berkshire, which is where I met the eight-legged creature. A very interesting chap was telling us all about what a great temperament Henrietta has, and how really, she was just a small furry creature.

He asked if I would like to hold her. I responded with a rather loud and immediate “no!”. But after a few minutes I began to reflect on my answer.

- How would I feel if I did do this & I was successful?

- But it’s a massive spider!

- How would I feel if I walked away and missed the chance?

- But it’s a really massive spider!

- Would I ever get the opportunity to do this again?

- But it’s a huge, hairy, eight-legged-beast of a spider!

- If I could do this, what are all the other things that I might be able to do in the future?

I talked a little longer to Henrietta’s owner, mulling over these issues in my mind, until I finally said a rather nervous “ok, I’ll do it”.

I held out my hand, and as the chap moved towards me with the spider, I stepped back about six feet and withdrew my hand to the safe place behind my back. First attempt failed.

The chap was so calm and encouraging that I decided to have another try…

It was a very interesting experience, I held Henrietta for quite some time, and let her walk slowly over my hands. I’m not sure I’m ready to get one for a pet, but I do think that we bonded a little.

The most important thing for me, was how I felt afterwards: Proud, reckless, invincible, excited, and feeling like I could probably try my hand at all sorts of new challenges.

We often work with people who have fears about their capabilities and potential in the workplace, people who are terrified of giving a presentation, or people who are scared to put themselves forward for more responsibility. But, what I’ve learned is that if we can find a way to help those people to push past their fears and tackle them, the sense of success and achievement is enormous, it’s empowering and it opens us up to all sorts of possibilities.

I’m not necessarily recommending that we take massive spiders into work to help people to conquer their fears, but in the workplace, what are the things that scare people? How can we encourage them to consider the questions that I did, so that they can see that not trying can be more of a failure than trying & not getting things perfect first time? This will mean that as managers, we have to take on the role of the encouraging spider-owner, but who knows what potential our people have if we can’t get them to extend their hand in the first place.

So, this week I’m feeling like a real success, I held a tarantula, and if nothing else, my children think I’m really cool.

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