What Will People Think Phobia

It was our first staff meeting right after the great federal government furlough of 2013. Our supervisor had invited a senior executive to our get-together. Prior to the meeting, some of my team members developed a set of questions we would bring to this executive’s attention during the “open mic” session.

The minute this executive entered the room and started talking, I knew we were in trouble. She began by asking everyone if they felt lucky to have a job after being furloughed for weeks. You could just feel the power shift in the room from the participants to the executive. Nobody asked her any questions. They fell victim to “what will people think phobia.”

What were my colleagues thinking when they abandoned the ship during our conversation with the senior executive? Maybe any of the following: I am not at a high enough grade to make a comment. I don’t have adequate knowledge of the subject matter to make a difference. What if I am wrong? What if someone disagrees with my positions? What if I step on someone’s toes?

Think back to when you were in kindergarten. Do you remember when the teacher asked a question? The entire class would raise their hand and blurt out the first thing that entered their minds. They did not worry about what others thought of their comments. They spoke from their hearts. When was the last time you were that confident?

Fierce Inc, is an organization that helps individuals and organizations transform conversations in ways that promote productivity and accountability that lead to better outcomes. They recommend the following actions to counteract “what will people think phobia.”

• Take the courage to interrogate reality-Nobody owns the entire truth of any subject matter. We own pieces of the truth. We should not be shy about sharing our perspective on those truths.
• Come out from behind the conversation and make it real-In other words, show up as your real, honest to goodness, authentic self. Think about the costs of the hundreds of phony personal and professional conversations you have had in your lifetime. How different would your life be if you would have been more courageous in those discussions?
• Obey your instincts-Our emotional brain knows what we need to say before the thinking part of our brain figures out what is going on. As human beings we more emotional than logical. Trust your gut.

Lauren E. Miller of Grab and Go Stress Solutions points out that “what will people think phobia” interrupts our path to personal excellence. What if you made a resolution which said, “I will not let other people’s reactions to my thoughts, ideas and insights get in the way of being my authentic self today.” Would your posture be different? How would your body language change? Could you find your multiplying and inner champion voice while at the same time silencing your diminishing and inner critic whispers.

Stay grounded to the heart beat of your personal mission. You are already great whether others like you or not.

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Tammy Seleski

This advice is contrary to “think before you speak”, which I prefer. I like what you are proposing, however, I don’t think it is realistic anymore. If my gut tells me to keep quiet after a superior asks me if I feel lucky to have my job, that’s exactly what I will do. It’s unfortunate, but the Senior Executive set the tone of that meeting and got the exact response he/she was seeking.


I agree with Joe. You can be your authentic self and still adhere to the ‘think before you speak’ adage – that’s just smart. But, having something to say in the first place makes us more than just computers – we have a voice and the smarts to know when and how to use it.

Tammy Seleski

Yes, speaking up is preferred; I feel that what I have to offer is worth verbalizing and I do that respectfully and with tact. When we were children, we didn’t have life experience to keep us from waving our hands, and blurting out our first instinctive answer. Now, I have a filter that keeps me from just shooting from the mouth. Be that “treason” to my true self, I hang. But, I don’t think it is.