The Other F-Word

By Barney Rosenberg
President, Ethics Line LLC

Allow me a few sentences and I will tell you what that other word is!  I promise.

Imagine that you are sitting in your office, logged onto your computer when the emails start arriving and the phone starts ringing.  Some of your co-workers at a manufacturing location are worried about one of their colleagues who has been acting strangely.  They worry that he may come in one day and “go postal” and they don’t know what to do.  They don’t know who to tell.

The word is FEAR!

You agree to meet with them after hours, off campus.  Six of them show up and tell you how bad things are.  The words LACK of trust keep coming up.  But FEAR is the biggie!

An intervention is called for and you reach out to a psychologist you know and have worked with before.  He specializes in industrial situations and is truly spectacular.

Together with the site HR folks, you organize a group meeting with 20 front line supervisors and the psychologist.  After introductions and some warm-ups, he poses this question: “Suppose during the next performance evaluation cycle you don’t give them their written evaluation on the day of their review.  Instead, you give the people you work with their written evaluations the night before.  That way they can take it home; read it over; think about it; and come in the next day for a deeper, more productive conversation.”

The reaction would have been hard to predict.  “Oh, no!  They’ll just get angry and act out violently!”

Turns out they were afraid of the people they supervised.

And the people they supervised were:

  1. Afraid of them
  2. Worried about their jobs
  3. Concerned about outsourcing
  4. Hearing rumors about the business being sold off
  5. Reading about foreign competition
  6. And yes, FEAR of violence

FEAR was everywhere!  And it was palpable.

A series of workshops about teamwork began to break down barriers.  People began talking to each other…and listening.  It became an on-going process. Progress was slow but it was progress.  And the employee people FEARed would go postal.  He didn’t.  And the FEAR was unfounded.  He was as worried as everyone else!

Any FEAR where you work? What will you do about it?


  1. Ah yes, the other “f” word, thank you for your insight.

    Then comes the Fear of retaliation….

  2. Great post — very interesting take on systemic communication issues. Are these types of communication sessions something that Ethics Line provides?

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