January 21, 2022

Do you fear being wrong?

We’re under a lot of pressure to always know the right answer. What is it you fear the most – being wrong, not knowing the answer, or something else?

Take a moment to explore fear, sometimes explained as:

False

Evidence

Appearing

Real

Real or not, fear affects everything we do.

The initial fear spike creates hesitation, hesitation creates doubt, and doubt creates procrastination. It often leads to a fear loop, where the chattering voice of resistance creeps in, friction builds, and the cycle repeats.

Have you experienced a fear loop?

I see this in a lot of the teams I work with, often when preparing to present their work — especially to executives. Anxiety sets in on what questions they need to answer — including unlikely questions. The fear spike hits and drives a frenetic attempt to figure out all the potential questions and know all the answers. This wastes a lot of energy and creates a lot of extra stress.

So where does the fear come from?

We want to fit in and belong. Contributing value is a primary way to gain acceptance to the group. We fear getting it wrong or not knowing the answer risks our acceptance in the group. Or we don’t feel accepted and fear exclusion.

My family loves to share the story of my first day of kindergarten.

All summer long all I talked about the excitement of going to school. To learn. When the first day came and it was time to leave, I freaked out. Sobbing tears, I clutched the doorknob for dear life and screamed that they could not make me go.

In the end, I was afraid the teacher would ask a question I didn’t know the answer to. I guess I feared not fitting in.

A lot of our fear is perception – the false evidence that seems real.

In my case, it took a few decades, but I got over the fear of needing to know the answers.

I’m okay if someone asks me a question I don’t know the answer to. I’d rather help get the right answer — and learn in the process — than be the person who strives to always be right (and never get it wrong).

Consider this – which do you fear more: not knowing the answer (when asked) or not getting the right answer?

I prefer to get the right answer.

It means I’m comfortable not knowing and getting it wrong, at first. Which means I learn a lot, and along the way, I get it less wrong, without worrying about being right.

The way to handle it is simple — once you embrace it and let go of the fear: explain you don’t know, but know how to find out.

In the end, we can learn there isn’t much to fear except… fear.

It’s okay to not know.

It’s even okay to be wrong, as long as you get better at solving problems and getting the right answer when it counts.

About the Author Michael Santarcangelo

The founder of Security Catalyst, Michael develops exceptional leaders and powerful communicators with the security mindset for success.

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