3 Steps to Becoming Fearless at Work

Libby Kane

Wish you could always feel calm—and ooze competence—at work?

Surprise! Even your boss sweats sometimes. In fact, Jonathan Alpert, a psychotherapist in New York City, specializes in working with what he calls “the last people you would expect to be afraid.”

They include high-ranking executives who, while they might exude confidence, are just as worried about the impression they’re making as anyone else.

“With work-related fears, as with any fear, people’s imaginations tends to run wild,” explains Alpert, psychotherapist and author of the upcoming ‘Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.’”

Even the most experienced executive’s confidence can falter when she’s faced with a challenging task, like negotiating a deal or making a big presentation.

And if they can get nervous, so can we. Because confidence at work leads to promotions, raises and general awesomeness, we spoke to Alpert about how you can become fearless on the job.

Win a Copy of the Book!

Five lucky readers will win their own copies of “Be Fearless” by Jonathan Alpert.

To enter: Share this story on Facebook, then tell us in the comments: Where in your life would you most like to be fearless?

Overcoming ‘Negativity Bias’

Alpert explains negativity bias, or “the tendency to notice and remember negative events and information over positive ones” as a deep-seated habit we all have. That bias, he says, has been programmed into our minds for thousands of years, from a time when our world was teeming with danger rather than Youtube channels.

But the potential for a negative outcome can scare us into stasis, and one bad experience can color all those after it … if we let it.

All fear is based on uncertainty, but you can take a three-fold approach to ensuring it doesn’t stop you in your tracks.

1. Embrace Excitement

You know that feeling when your boss calls you into a meeting? That heart-thumping, palms-sweating, hyper-focused feeling? You might call it fear, but fearless people call it excitement. Fear and excitement have the same physiological symptoms, Alpert explains, based in the body’s “fight or flight” response. Whether you’re excited or fearful, your body is poised to act. The difference between the two is how you interpret it.

Try this: The next time you’re called in for a job interview, meeting or performance review, recognize your quickly beating heart as a symptom of excitement. Instead of worrying about how it will go, get excited to share your experiences, ace the presentation, get promoted. Reframing your outlook can make the same sensation positive instead of negative—it’s all in how you interpret the signals your body is sending.

2. Handle Rejection the Right Way

There’s a reason they call it “the sting of rejection.” Being told no, whether you’re pursuing a date or a raise, can be jarring. But thoughts like “I must be unworthy” can sink you, according to Alpert. “No doesn’t always mean no,” he says. “It might just mean that you need to find a new way to approach a person or a situation.” Fearless people, he says, see a rejection as feedback, springing into action rather than retreating in defeat. “Rejection is the only way to get acceptance,” Alpert explains. “If you don’t try at all, you definitely won’t get what you want.”

Try this: If you request a raise or promotion and your boss’ first response isn’t positive, try responding with: “What could I do to make this promotion a possibility?” Think ahead and be prepared to talk about not only your contributions to the company, but the ways which you could be contributing more. Actively solicit feedback on your performance from both your immediate superiors and any trusted colleagues. Take what they say to heart, work to meet the goals your boss has set for you, then revisit the conversation. You might find you get a different outcome next time around.

3. Know the Difference Between Preparation and Procrastination

If you’ve finished preparing for a presentation and are poring over your notes for the hundredth time, you might be creating an opportunity for doubt. When you find yourself asking questions like, “What if they hate it?” or telling yourself things like, “I’m terrible at public speaking,” you’ve finished preparing–now, you’re procrastinating.

“The longer you hesitate, the harder it will be to act. Don’t think,” Alpert says. “Just do.”

Try this: Give yourself a deadline. Whether it’s preparing for a presentation, or compiling information to ask for a raise, give yourself a set number of days to do your research (three days, maybe … not 30). Before you start, put an appointment on your calendar to make that phone call/send that email/visit that office, and get it done before you start second-guessing yourself.

GIVEAWAY ALERT: Five lucky readers will win their own copies of “Be Fearless” by Jonathan Alpert. To enter: Share this story on Facebook, then tell us in the comments: Where in your life would you most like to be fearless?

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  • Jeni

    I want to become more fearless when handling rejection on my freelance work or at my full time job – its hard when you put so much into something and others rip it apart, I always try to look for ways to use it as constructive criticism but it can be hard sometimes!  :)

  • Nicole I.

    I want to be more fearless when applying for a new job. Out of fear of rejection and of change, I always put it off because “my resume isn’t perfect yet” or “I don’t have time this week to craft a great cover letter, work is too busy right now.” I’m going to try to keep in mind the words of 
    Ivan Turgenev: ”If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin.” 

  • Sabrina R

    I’d like to be more fearless when talking to management/executives! If it’s small talk, I’m fine. But once a project is being discussed, I don’t talk unless I’m being asked a direct question. I’m afraid of speaking out of turn or speaking to a topic that I really don’t know!

  • Astrid

    I definitely want to be more fearless in my career.  My fear has really held me back in getting the career I really want.  

  • MD

    I would like to be fearless in my relationships with others. I’ve always had a problem speaking up and defending myself. I let others run me over and put me down. 

  • Julia

    I’d like to become more fearless and self-confident when meeting new people in social situations. I actually feel like work is the easy part – there are defined roles and social “rules”. In the real world, you have to make those rules up as you go, which can prove to be intimidating at best!

  • Amanda R.

    I would like to be fearless enough to bring up all of the successes I’ve had in my career when my boss begins to point out my coworkers’ and my shortcomings.

  • Courtenay_mims

    Fearless…There are so many areas that I would like to become fearless in. I am the youngest in my office by at least 25 years…  I want to become more fearless in communicating my ideas at work.  

  • Ashley_H454

    I would like to become fearless in several areas dealing with my chosen career path. I am the youngest in this establishment by a LONG shot. I am in a position of authority and I’m a female in a HEAVILY male dominated field. From having to be better than my competition to handling the managerial role expected of me with co workers who are so much older than me. Its a tough balance. I’m in the process of swinging a PhD and work, and its a lot. I’m concerned with the economy’s conditions to ask for a raise, but I’ve made the first steps by Learnvest’s guide to take that step. There are several areas I could stand to improve upon. I share learnvest articles frequently on my facebook page, and really enjoy reading what you have to say on money and career matters.

  • Bethhale

    I would like to be more fearless when speaking with my Dr.. I just have a hard time telling him what is really bothering me.

  • Maryfaithjames

    I would most like to be fearless when public speaking!   Once I start, I’m okay, but the anticipation kills me.  I love the advice to interpret fear/nervousness/anxiety as excitement!  That is so true!

  • carrotcake37

    I would like to be more fearless in making new friends!  As a recent college graduate with a new career, in a new city, making new friends without the built in community that college provides is difficult.  I want to be more outgoing and initiate friendships with women I encounter!! 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=5700427 Kristin Lilly

    I would like to be more fearless when meeting new people.

  • Krahulec

    I want to embrace my fear of setting healthy boundaries both professionally and personally.  I know this fear of confrontation/saying no has lead to blocks in my life and as I begin to let go of those fears, look them in the eye and say what can I do about it, then I know no matter what push back I get from others, my self esteem is worth it.

  • Ren

    I would like to be more fearless when talking to other people in person, especially in group settings.

  • Laurip

    I would like to be more fearless when it comes to approaching possible new clients.

  • Ccregham

    I would like to be more fearless in my direct-selling business.  Client care calls are an issue, because there is always that fear of hearing “no.”

  • Valopia

    I would like to be more fearless in promoting my writing, editing and marketing skills.

  • AB

    I would like to be more fearless in allowing myself to explore the possibility of changing my career path.

  • http://twitter.com/TruSpeaks TruSpeaks

    I’d most like to be fearless about my career.

  • Krista

    Work is the place I really need to be fearless! I’m just about to graduate and go from intern to real job and I’d like to start off on the right foot!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Heather-Ferrante-Cathrall/1093517143 Heather Ferrante Cathrall

    I’d most like to be fearless when trying new things.  I am a bit unsure of change and I’d like to embrace it as an adventure instead of avoiding it as a fear

  • MelissaTuesday

    At this time in my life I am most focused on my career, but my career is a huge part of my life.  I just graduated college and got my dream job.  I’ve already received 2 promotions in less than a year because I work very, very hard.  I also take on new projects challenging myself everyday.  I feel like I am going to outgrow this small company I am working at right now but I know I will be too afraid to find a new job.  This is what I would like to be fearless at.  Starting something new, starting new relationships with bosses and coworkers, beginning a new routine. 

  • SherryBP

    I need to become more fearless in my job and friendship pursuits. My husband and I just moved to a rural community that’s 2 hours away from where I’ve lived for the past 45 years. Now that I’m searching for a new job, I find myself feeling a little overwhelmed without my network of old friends and familiar haunts close by. Of course, it doesn’t help that my self-confidence falters at the most inopportune times, leaving me stammering for an answer. Hopefully this adventure outside my comfort zone will help me overcome my fears.

  • alyssa

    I wish I were fearless and could walk in to my boss’ office and negotiate that raise I deserve! 

  • http://www.facebook.com/kitchentoolqueen Lisa Huber

    I love these ideas.  It is truly important to be able to face your fears and stand up with courage.

  • Rachelspears

    I would def like to be fearless in chasing my modeling dreams.  Can’t wait d this article for tips and advice from Jon Alpert.

  • Megan Thomas

    I would definitely like to be fearless in my career right now. I will be graduating from college soon and would love to be able to walk into job interviews with confidence!

  • Sue Godfrey3

    I wish that I’d have read this 3 years ago. If I’d have taken point 2, and asked “What could make this promotion a possibility” instead of becoming dejected & defeated, I might still be working for that other organization. Instead, that dejection at being passed over for a promotion led to a costly mistake for the company. I am working somewhere else now & it’s a much better fit. However, if I had framed rejection as an opportunity, then I would have had a different attitude. Thanks for the tips, LearnVest! 

  • Bri

    Though people have told me so, I wish I were a more confident public speaker. However like Alpert says, it’s all in how you interpret your feelings about the situation. I’m going to start training myself to channel that fear into excitement. Believing in your strengths and the opportunities that lie ahead are key!

  • Brendaghenry40

    This note is for Jonathon, I have always been a positive, high energy, focused person at all my jobs. What you forgot to mention is people with these qualities stand out and thus become quick targets for those employees who have been on the job longer. Sabotage becomes rampant, and if you dare stand up and speak up, you will look like the angry employee. In an environment where every knows each other and nepotism is infesting your job, the go getter hero can soon become an employee with low self esteem, questioning what went wrong. This is an excerpt from my life.

  • Emilytomberlin1

    I would like to be fearless not only in my job, but also in pursuing my dreams.  I have had failure in the past that really brought me down, but those dreams still persist and I hope to one day have the courage to try again.

  • Barefootgirl69

    Most every area, but primarily in seeking a soulmate, & dating in general. Id’ enjoy the journey so much more with less fear… more faith.