Some time ago, I had some bad news to break to two experienced members of my team. It had nothing to do with anything they had done; rather, a decision had been made higher up that I knew they weren’t going to like, because it was going to cause some aggravation for them in their day to day jobs.
I didn’t really see any alternative but to simply tackle the issue head-on. So I asked them to come into my office and sit down. Adopting a grave expression (and not for show, either, for what I had to discuss wasn’t a trivial matter, and I was very much expecting a negative reaction on their part) I said:
“I’m not going to sugar-coat this, so I’ll get straight to the point.”
I then told them what was going on and what they were going to have to do in response.
Their faces went from being etched with anxiety to showing relief.
“Thank God!” one of them said. “I thought you were firing us!”
“That’s what I thought, too!” added the other.
It turned out that I had unwittingly created an effective subterfuge: when they thought they were being fired, the actual news I had to deliver turned out to be a lot less bothersome than it might otherwise have been.
The point is this: in my experience, even high performers – in fact, specifically high performers – have a tendency to imagine that they are just one step away from being fired. They are constantly trying to live up to the standards of performance that they see all around them, and concerned about whether they’re measuring up. This mild paranoia is frequently a component of what drives them to be as good as they are.
Clearly, that feeling mustn’t become too strong, or it may hamper your ability perform or be too distressing. And there are clearly organizations out there with less than healthy cultures where your concern might be more well-founded. But it might also simply be that you’re a driven, high-performing person whose mild anxiety over being fired is part of what makes you good. And in that, you might have more company than you imagine.