When in Doubt

There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills. – Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha

We all have those moments when we second guess ourselves or others.  Doubt is a part of being human, but a dangerous alternative to careful thought.  We all have those moments when we have that feeling of uncertainty about our abilities.  From this uncertainty, we become more hesitant and less decisive. Over time, it erodes a person’s ability to develop realistic goals and meet their and other’s expectations.

In the workplace, self-doubt makes us doubt our own capabilities.  When we doubt those around us, it undermines our employees’ confidence and relationship with us.  Several months ago, I worked with an organization that was suffering from some typical maladies:  lack of vision, poor performance, and low levels of morale.  One manager summed up all the issues as “the organization lost its confidence.”  I asked how it happened and he described how as one thing after another went wrong, employees started to doubt themselves and their leaders.  Through discussions with employees, it became evident that the span of pessimism pervaded the entire organization.  Basically, doubt was creating its own prophecies: employees assume it cannot be done, so it cannot be.

Dispelling doubt in the workplace is a complicated endeavor, but what about in an individual? We have all known someone that has a fear of speaking or presenting.  The person so significantly doubts his or her abilities that he or she cannot speak in front of others.  I worked with an extremely talented consultant for years that was as close to a genius as I have known.  His solutions were parsimonious and effective while boarding on truly elegant.  With all his talent the thought of speaking in front of an audience almost paralyzed him.  Like any self-doubt, he worked on it and overtime gradually gained a foundation of confidence.  From this foundation, he was able to stretch a little more.  Although he is not someone that relishes public speaking, he possesses less doubt than he did at the beginning of the process.

So, how did he overcome his self-doubt?

Identify the doubt – When attempting to overcome anything in our personal or professional lives, we have to identify what it is and what impact it has on us.  As human beings, it is much easier to ignore the things that we do not like about ourselves.  Giving the doubt a name and understanding it starts the journey.

Get to know the doubt – Analyze what started the doubt and what feeds it on a regular basis.  Doubts arise from emotions and emotions will overcome logic many times.  However, when logic is applied to emotion, it becomes something that can be examined rationally.  Once you know where it comes from and what triggers it, isolate how to address it.

Devise a plan – Once you know the beast, tame it.  Gradually, introduce the phenomenon in small doses.  Gain a level of comfort and move to the next level.  Putting the plan for dealing with your doubt into writing helps solidify your plan and create the commitment to change.

Take action – Now that you are ready; it is time to start the journey.

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