Joanne was excited about the possibility of a promotion to a leadership role — until she learned that it required travel. How would her family react?

Feeling stuck in his current position, Gerard started perusing the company’s internal job postings. Would his manager be angry if he applied for a position in another department?

Alyson, manager of a 10-person team, was caught off guard when Melanie asked for two weeks off — at the height of busy season. With no company policy in place regarding the timing of employee vacations to guide her decision, how could she refuse?

The fear of upsetting others is very real — and very powerful. A concern we often hear from our career coaching clients, it can be debilitating, leading to feeling stuck, frustrated and even resentful.

7 Ways to Overcome the Fear of Upsetting Others

fear of upsetting others

Concern over offending others or creating conflict in relationships can stand in the way of moving forward, not only in your career, but also in your personal life. These strategies can help you learn how to embrace challenges, express your point of view and make effective requests, even at the risk of upsetting others.

  1. Examine your fear — What thoughts are driving your concerns? Are you worried about push-back, a potential confrontation or something deeper? People often catastrophize: If I upset my boss, I’ll get fired; If I anger my partner, they’ll leave me. How likely are those outcomes?
  2. Weigh the options — While sometimes it makes sense to accommodate others, it can often come at a high price. In the example above, if Alyson approves her team member’s vacation request, will it place an unfair burden on other employees (or herself)? What are the ramifications of each option? Sometimes the answer isn’t a simple “yes” or “no,” but rather a compromise or another creative solution. Perhaps Melanie can take one week of her vacation during busy season, and the other week at a slower point in the business cycle. Or, maybe another team member can volunteer to work extra hours to cover Melanie’s workload if she returns the favor when he takes his next vacation?
  3. Watch your language — Your words and somatic communication — including your posture, tone of voice, expressions and gestures — set the tenor of your exchange. If your body language signals trepidation, the other person may take advantage of what they perceive as weakness. If you fear upsetting others, you might over-apologize, further diminishing your position. Self-talk is equally — if not more — important. When your inner voice speaks in “shoulds,” you distort your thoughts and unwittingly sabotaging the outcome.
  4. Become more comfortable with conflict — Expressing differences in opinion can be unnerving, but the process of working through conflict can actually lead to stronger connections. When handled with tact and respect, disagreements can also spur innovation and facilitate positive change. Parents who fear upsetting their children often enable them in an effort to thwart arguments. Their efforts to keep the peace hinder their children’s ability to develop autonomy and, often, self-confidence.
  5. Find your voicePeople pleasers are keenly aware of how hard it can be to say “no” for fear of upsetting others. As a result, they often become overcommitted, overworked and overwhelmed. Listening to your own voice (it counts!) can help you learn to respect your reality and honor your priorities.cost of avoiding confrontation
  6. Master crucial conversations — Emotions can get messy, which is off-putting enough for some. However, sweeping them under the rug doesn’t make them disappear. In fact, it often causes them to fester as a breeding ground for resentment. Engaging in meaningful, authentic conversation allows both parties to listen — and to be heard. These conversations can foster deeper connections and a higher level of commitment in your relationships.
  7. Nurture self-confidence — The fear of upsetting others often goes hand in hand with insecurity. Concerned that your relationship isn’t strong enough to handle conflict, you avoid it. Worried that you’re not capable enough to overcome an obstacle, you try to circumvent it. Increasing your self-confidence encourages you to take on greater challenges. As you gain trust in yourself, you invite more opportunities for success — in your career and in life.

In what other ways have you learned to overcome a fear of upsetting others?

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