Conquer Communication Anxiety At Work

by Pranav Ramesh
April 05, 2022

How many of us dread that upcoming presentation for work, knowing we’ll be judged on everything we say and do? Who is actually thrilled to have to deliver that wedding toast in front of hundreds of guests? Let’s face it, most of us would rather pass on public speaking.  

Whenever people are polled about their greatest fears, public speaking continually ranks as one of the most feared scenarios, even more so than death! Close to 85% of people admit to having a fear of public speaking and many experts believe that percentage to be higher than what people honestly report. 

Is it possible to overcome communication anxiety both in personal and professional settings? Let’s look at some best practices for managing communication anxiety and see examples of how others have been able to overcome these challenges to become better communicators both at work and at home.  

 

Why does effective communication matter? 

Communication anxiety is deeply rooted in our instincts as social beings who live and work together. It is to our evolutionary advantage to pay attention to our “status” relative to other people. While working and living in groups has its advantages for safety, living in communities also means that our status is determined in comparison to others in our group. During the evolutionary process, a higher status meant more opportunity to get food, have shelter and an increased likelihood of reproduction. This evolutionary process is still hard wired in us and when we speak in front of others, we risk that status as others judge what we’re saying and who we are. It’s a big risk, from an evolutionary standpoint at least.  

Just a few of the negative impacts of communication anxiety include: 

  • A serious lack of valuable diversity in our conversations- women and people from underrepresented groups may have trouble fully expressing their ideas in work environments that aren’t fully inclusive. 
  • An audience that suffers secondhand anxiety from a nervous speaker can’t focus on the message being presented to them.  
  • Missing out on the opportunity for advancements in one’s career and personal life. 

 RELATED: What’s your EQ? Considering the impact of emotional intelligence at work

 

Reframing how we think about communication anxiety 

But let’s consider our mindset as well. Our initial reaction is to think the stress and anxiety from public speaking is bad. Bad and useless and you should just prepare enough so you can ignore your nerves. Yet, this approach doesn’t allow us to use biology to our advantage. Our core assumption about communication anxiety being bad reinforces how we respond in that stressful situation. If we allow ourselves to acknowledge that we are nervous and to understand why we’re nervous, we can start to think about how to use that stress to our advantage. This last point is important. We typically don’t get nervous over things that don’t matter- things that aren’t important. The mere fact