This morning I rescued a spider from my bathtub for the second day running. I carried it across the bathroom and released it out of the window – with my bare hands! Some of you may be wondering what the big deal is, because it’s only a bug. Well it’s a big deal to me because I really don’t like spiders. There are plenty of arachnophobes out there who will sympathise with me, and more importantly, there are many other common fears that can become barriers in your life. Top ones include aviophobia, which stops a lot of people from travelling (or at least slows them down), while acrophobes miss out on beautiful views and glossophobia – the fear of public speaking – might just prevent you from getting your dream job.
Some surveys rank this as the number one fear and even when it doesn’t hit the top spot, it’s still pretty much always in the running. I hope there aren’t too many of you with a genuine, full-blown phobia, but I’d be willing to bet that some of the symptoms will be familiar whenever it’s your turn to step up in front of an audience. Your heart pounding in your chest, beads of sweat on your brow, butterflies in the stomach, dizziness, dry mouth and a sudden need to pee are just a few of the unpleasant symptoms associated with fear, according to the NHS Choices website. It’s a rare and very fortunate individual who can honestly say they’ve never experienced any of these at an interview or before giving a presentation! The good news is that you don’t have to put up with it forever, because fears can be subdued. Exposure, or desensitisation are regarded as productive treatments for phobias. Translation: practise and you’ll get better!
One of my clients – let’s call her Susan – recently told me that her strategy for dealing with selection processes was simply to avoid going for jobs that required her to attend assessment centres. On the basis of just one assessment centre where she wasn’t successful, she had developed a fear of these activities. Unfortunately, just one bad experience can be all it takes. When a person develops a limiting belief, they tend immediately to notice any evidence that reinforces this new idea being the truth and ignore the evidence that proves it’s false. Susan believed that because she ‘failed’ the assessment centre, she must be rubbish at assessment centres and therefore she should avoid them altogether. That’s how a phobia grows. In fact, there was a massive amount in her favour. 1) the feedback from the event had actually been generally positive. 2) in assessed group work at university, both in the project meetings and the presentations, Susan had done really well and drawn praise from tutors as well as other students. 3) in work, she had no problems dealing with others and speaking her mind, negotiating successfully to achieve the desired results.
All Susan needed to do was keep in mind the other times in her life when she managed to communicate clearly and effectively under pressure. This takes a bit of preparation, which is important at all stages of the selection process so you can simply incorporate a couple of extra steps. Take the time to identify strengths and think of occasions when you have done well in situations similar to whatever scares you. Then, if panic starts to rise, give yourself a firm and reassuring reminder that you have handled this before so you can handle it again. Choose to listen to the angel on your shoulder that will help you instead of the devil that will drag you down. Don’t let fear get in the way of achieving your goals.