Fear Of Finding Out | Steve Barkley

Fear Of Finding Out

A long-time colleague of mine sent me a LinkedIn post from Joshua Freedman, the CEO of 6 Seconds, with a note saying, “I’ll bet you can use this.” He was right. The post introduced me to a new term; Fear Of Finding Out (FOFO).

FOFOIn an Inc post titled What Is FOFO and How Do You Fight It? How Emotionally Intelligent People Deal With the Fear of Finding Out, Justin Bariso defines FOFO as a psychological barrier that stops a person from learning more about a potential problem because they’re afraid of what they’ll discover. The introduction to FOFO arrived on the same day that I had been in a conversation with two instructional coaches seeking guidance on increasing the value of data meetings with teachers. The coaches described a lack of teacher engagement in digging into the data and using it to make instructional decisions. Could FOFO be having an impact? What might teachers be afraid of finding out?

Initially, the term FOFO was used to describe the feelings of people who were afraid to seek medical advice even if suffering. It’s the reason individuals may be delaying or avoiding visiting their doctor or seeking medical advice even when they may be concerned.

Bariso describes how FOFO is applied to other contexts and poses some possible sources of FOFO, which I thought could fit for teachers sitting in a data review meeting.

  • Maybe you’re afraid that by learning more about a problem, you won’t be able to perform the actions needed to address it.
  • Maybe you’re overwhelmed with other problems and don’t have the time or resources to deal with this one.
  • Maybe you simply don’t want to take on the responsibility for this “thing,” believing that another person should handle it.

I’m pondering the connection of FOFO to work I have done across my coaching career describing being unconsciously unskilled on Gordon’s Skill Development Ladder. In the diagram below from SHIFT ELearning, it’s the stage identified as unconsciously incompetent.

Note that learning doesn’t occur at the unconscious incompetent stage. We all need opportunities to uncover our unconscious incompetence in order to have continuous growth in our skills. “Finding out” that I am missing a skill set generates discomfort that we might wish to avoid. (FOFO)

Building Emotional Intelligence is an antidote for FOFO.

It’s natural for ‘fear of finding out’ to raise a set of negative emotions. While we may not be able to control the feeling, we can control how we react to the feeling. That takes a conscious switch to our thoughts.

Bariso describes reactions to FOFO:

“When you experience FOFO, there are two ways to deal with it:

Option 1: You can allow the emotion, in this case your fear, to control your thoughts.

Option 2: You can take control of your thoughts, which will in turn influence your emotions.

As you might have guessed, option two is the emotionally intelligent one.”

Emotional intelligence mind map with marker, business conceptThree elements of emotional intelligence can impact FOFO.

  • Self-awareness- When you can recognize the feelings you are having and what the source might be, you are in a better spot to consciously choose the actions you take. A personal example for me is the feelings of fear/nervousness I feel at the beginning of a keynote presentation. It helped a lot to know that often the audience has a similar sense of discomfort. “Is this going to be boring?” With nervousness, I speed up my delivery…..not an effective action. Being aware of the feeling, I plan some humor or a quick turn to a neighbor question that leads to the audience and myself calming down.
  • Empathy- With empathy I can consider the impact of my ‘fear of finding out’ on others. When FOFO is keeping a teacher from opening the classroom door to colleagues or avoiding sharing their student work or assessments with colleagues, one needs to consider the impact on their students. Am I encouraged to risk finding out what I could do so that my students could reap the benefits?
  • Strategies learned through emotional intelligence can empower us when we feel FOFO. Bariso poses how asking ourselves questions can shift us from emotions, to thoughts, to action. He suggests asking “How might the best- and worst-case scenario play out? Is it worth the risks of taking or not taking action?” The question I use when coaching a teacher who is deciding whether or not to implement a new strategy in instruction or in management is, “What’s the worst case scenario if you take this action?” In most cases, the response is one that has quite limited impact. If students are not currently investing effort in learning tasks or a particular student is behaving negatively, the worst case identified is no change so we will go back to the drawing board after we find out. If the change is more substantial, the teacher might identify that student learning outcomes at the end of the process have not reached what one would expect from the current instructional practice. An example might be implementing a project-based approach for the first time. In these cases, our approach is to build in some short-term measures along the way to provide assurance or modify the complexity or duration of the first trial to lower the risks. Now the teacher can move forward and find out.

I have frequently described that the coaching environment we need in schools is one of being “comfortable with discomfort.” That’s an environment where I can deal with my FOFO.

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