Beyond Judgement to Self-Confidence

David Nour
David Nour

Did you know that fear of judgment by others is common in all of us? Athletes feel it all the time if they don’t win. Students dread it in the disappointment of others, and professionals worry about projects, or their performance evaluations being critiqued, which may lead to a negative opinion of friends or colleagues.


Psychologists refer to these feelings as a “fear of negative evaluation.” It’s why we worry about what others think of us, and the need to better manage our fear of being judged. It’s important to understand that fear of judgment is part of our evolutionary nature to survive in society. Success at work leads to a promising career; the converse effect leads to being laid off or loss of income.


It turns out, this fear of judgment can actually be measured. In their seminal study, David Watson and Ronald Friend developed the Fear of Negative Evaluation Scale (FNE) to assess levels of social anxiety. Watson and Friend’s FNE assessment requires a participant to answer thirty true/false” statements. The total score indicates whether someone is mostly relaxed, has some fear of evaluative situations, or is generally fearful of what others think of them.


Knowing where you lie on the scale is helpful, as your score can indicate how well you are able to judge your own talent. For instance, researchers reported that a high FNE score was more likely to lead an individual to perceive their attempt at public speaking as poor. Feeling fearful of negative evaluation by others causes a speaker to focus on their awkward appearance or the number of long gaps in their speech. Positive aspects of the performance, such as appearing confident or self-assured, were more commonly overlooked by this group. Understanding that a high FNE may cause internal negative bias can therefore be helpful in assuaging any doubts you might have about your ability.


Furthermore, psychologists have found that having a high FNE score can negatively affect your performance. In 2012, Christopher Mesagnoa, Jack Harveya, and Christopher Janelle conducted a study with experienced basketball players. They found that players who scored highly on the Brief FNE questionnaire displayed increased anxiety that translated into a significant decrease in performance in a high-pressure shooting situation. The researchers concluded that the fear of performing badly can, unfortunately, increase the chance of poor performance.


In 2015, psychologists in India reported that students were likely to perform worse when fear of negative evaluation or high levels of anxiety were present. The poor presentation was then noted to cause observers to develop negative feelings towards the performer, worsening their feelings of rejection. This instigated a vicious cycle of worsening anxiety and performance. Crucially, the study notes that it is possible to break this cycle if subjects can develop methods to improve their outward social performance.


Overcoming fear of judgment

As fear of negative evaluation can worsen your performance, it is important to find ways to manage your anxiety of being judged. Here are seven suggestions:


1. Really get to know yourself better! That may be an odd statement, yet it’s important to understand what triggers your fears, anxiety, apprehension, and how you may be perceived. 


2. Capture and double down on positive affirmations. Before you start thinking Jack Handy of SNL, research suggests that writing affirmations can help restore your self-confidence and help you get to a better place of confidence in yourself, your abilities, and your performance. Which makes what others think of you far less likely to matter.
3. Let go of your baggage. I once heard someone describe yesterday in our past, and “something that can hurt you no more!” Let go of past memories of social judgment. You screwed up your contribution to the team; who hasn’t? Dwelling on it won’t fix it. Most people forget about it. Let it go.
4. Say YES more often! If fear of being judged is holding you back, you’re likely to avoid future situations that may trigger the same. Agree to lead discussions, introduce guest presenters, give a new colleague tour of the office, or how the team functions remotely. Start small and gain the confidence to do more.
5. Embrace the challenge. Waiting to get anything over with is excruciating. The study of students in India found that although anxiety was high before and during a speech, this emotion often faded as soon as the speech ended. When you can, offer to present first – you’ll feel anxious in the shortest amount of time possible.

6. Deliver it with conviction! Give yourself some grace; it’s never as bad or as good as you think! Ignore your inner critic; you’re better than you give yourself credit for. Affirm your self-belief and ensure that you demonstrate that you do know what you’re doing and are capable of success. Trust in yourself and your audience will too.


7. Invest in your personal and professional growth. I wrote in Curve Benders, that investing in yourself is something no one can ever take away from you. Take public speaking courses, find a coach, sign up for an executive education course to amplify your strategic thinking and data-driven decision making. These will often instill confidence and belief in your talents.


Fear of judgment is common, but it can make you doubt your ability and worsen your performance. Self-assessment will help you to understand how significant that fear of negative evaluation is affecting your personal and professional life. Work on building self-belief, and try to nurture your self-confidence. Even though you might feel anxious, it is likely that you are performing more successfully than you think you are.


How have you found ways to overcome your fear of judgment? David Nour

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