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The psychology of fear

Lucy Foylan reviews Sheila Keegan's latest work, The Psychology of Fear in Organisations, which explores the nature of fear and the effects it can have in the workplace.

Sheila Keegan combines psychological theory and practical examples to lead the reader expertly throughout, leaving them with actionable guidance. The work is clearly divided into three sections. Keegan first gives some background and contextual information before exploring how fear causes problems in large organisations, ending with how we can resolve them by harnessing its power.

In the first section, she looks at ways in which fear is spoken about. Not only does she explore the negative outcomes of feeling fearful, but also the amazing ways we can react to it. The example of a man who was able to lift a truck off a cyclist trapped underneath during a crash was particularly striking. In this section Keegan also looks at the broader climate of fear in which we live, especially focusing on the consequences of the financial crisis of 2008.

She then goes on to cover ways in which fear can be detrimental to the working environment by inhibiting thoughtful practices, innovation and honesty. She finishes by exploring how each of us, having recognised these bad habits, traps and processes, can work to combat them in our everyday working world.

Clearly written and well sectioned, the book covers a lot of ground while still feeling targeted, personal and wholly applicable. In one particularly thoughtful section she encourages the reader to put themselves in the shoes of the focus of a case study and really ‘feel the fear’. Encouraging the reader to understand a fearful reaction in a visceral sense feels like an actively helpful precursor to learning to harness this fear.

Keegan doesn’t write about combatting or eradicating fear, rather she focuses on harnessing its energy in an active and empowering way. Having illustrated the power it can have in the background and context section of her work, she later returns to show how it can help you to be innovative, imaginative and generous with your ideas in the workplace, turning the role of fear from an inhibitor to a facilitator of positive change.

One of the most important aspects of the book for a qualitative researcher is the application of skills and processes from the toolkit of the profession within the work environment. Active listening, good moderation in meetings, not shooting down ideas and encouraging people to share are all keystones of a well-functioning, productive organisation. As researchers, it begs the question as to the extent to which we really use these skills within our own workplaces. Employing them on projects and for clients can be a world away from really applying them internally within our work environment.

It might take courage, but this book should provide readers with the motivation they need to start making positive changes from the moment they put it down.

 

Lucy Foylan
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