How social anxiety, phobias ruin careers


Rabin spent considerable time planning for the annual awards ceremony for his industry held in Mombasa each year. He knew his small design firm might be up for the design project of the year prize. He imagined how as his team would walk on stage that all eyes and cameras would be on him.

Months leading up to the event, he started shopping for the perfect tuxedo and shoes. Then days before the ceremony, he got a haircut at his favourite kinyozi (barber).

Preparing for the night, he brushed his shoes, tried on a variety of watches to see what matched his tuxedo the best, and practised his acceptance speech.

Indeed Rabin’s design firm did end up winning the honour. Full of joy mixed with anxiety, as he joined his colleagues on stage, he tripped slightly as he climbed the stairs up the platform.

Mortified, he felt that everyone in attendance and watching the live stream online was judging him and looking down on him for misstepping as he got on the stage from the stairs. He further felt that maybe his tuxedo got wrinkled or his shoes scuffed.

He thought maybe even his voice during his acceptance speech showed his anxiety. As Rabin looked back on the evening later the following week, he did not recall the win with any fondness.

Instead, he remembered it with embarrassment and regret. However, all of his colleagues and his friends in the audience did not even notice his stumble upon climbing the stage stairs. He had not fallen down, just tripped.

In a broader context, do any Business Daily readers often feel that others around them in meetings are staring at or judging them? Social phobias and the anxiety or feeling of mounting judgement can paralyse the professional development of thousands of workers across East Africa.

Thomas Gilovich and Kenneth Savitsky highlight how we think that we will be judged by others. Individuals expect other people to judge them much more harshly than what actually happens.

Such expectations really showcase an egocentric view of the world where we think we play a central role in many other people’s lives. However, the reality is that humans are much more concerned with their own lives to be overly worried about what others out in public are actually doing.

Understanding the true nature of strangers’ apathy towards one’s actions occurs as long as behaviour falls within roughly two standard deviations outside societal norms. Such knowledge can be freeing as one realises that not everyone around them is even noticing or thinking of them let alone judging them.

Further, Michael Brown and Lusia Stopa’s research on social phobias include the illusion of transparency. Humans tend to biasedly assume that other individuals can read their personal emotional reality. If we are frustrated, angry, happy, sad, hungry, etc., then we think other people can notice that in us.

Such unrealistic expectations that others can essentially see through us and read our emotional state can prove scary and unnecessarily intrusive or, on the flip side, make us angry that one’s family, friends, or coworkers are not adequately attentive to our emotional needs even though they really cannot see inside and know how one feels.

Thomas Gilovich, Victoria Medvec, and Kenneth Savitsky find that people actually dramatically over-predict that others are noticing and thinking of them.

If someone is surveyed about how they feel others around them are thinking about them in a social or work setting and then other people in the same vicinity are surveyed about that same individual in terms of their attention to them, the self-bias and self-perception gap is staggering.

People assume that others are paying attention to them and reading their emotions more than five times the amount that actually occurs.

So, as we go about our work weeks, let us release social anxiety and the over-obsession with what others think and liberate our minds and concerns. Unless our actions are integrally crucial to another person’s life, we may literally not be on their radar to even notice us.

Dr Scott may be reached on [email protected] or on Twitter: @ScottProfessor