FOFO is an acronym that has many meanings, ranging from “first on, first off”; to “franchisee-owned, franchisee operated” to “find out for oneself”. The more recent meaning of FOFO is “fear of finding out”. It is this contemporary meaning we will consider.
Fear of finding out was initially used in the medical world to describe the psychological barrier that stops many people from seeking medical treatment for health concerns. For example, a person is concerned that what they are experiencing could be serious; hence they deny anything is wrong and don’t go to a medical practitioner for medical advice.
This meaning of FOFO has now moved out of the medical world and into the world of business and government.
FOFO is something everyone experiences in life. The situations that trigger fear may be different, but we all experience those situations where we prefer not to find out. For example,
In our personal lives, FOFO is driven by fear. However, fear is often contaminated by two other negative emotions – shame and guilt.
Part of the challenge with FOFO is the merging of three negative emotions. There is fear and there is also shame and guilt. Shame is the painful emotion of being conscious that we have been ‘caught short’ of the standard we expected of ourselves.
In the above example, I mentioned not discussing something with our partner. It isn’t just the fear of not knowing how the conversation will end. It is a sense of shame that our image of ourselves as a loving, caring partner may be shown up as incorrect or wrong.
Guilt is the feeling that we have done something wrong. The fear associated with guilt is that we may not be able to fix what we have done wrong.
FOFO is often present in our interactions with others in our personal lives. Fear is linked with shame and a sense of guilt.
The FOFO also gets played out in government and business.
James Pomeroy, Director and Global Health and Safety Leader, in an article on LinkedIn, states:
FOFO has been used to explain why officials (government, regulatory, etc.,.) may be reluctant to investigate an issue because it may reveal potential failures and lapses on their part.
While there is always the exception, most government officials and business leaders strive to act ethically, fairly and do their best in their positions. Despite this, no one likes to experience situations where their lapses or potential failures may be revealed. FOFO can act to prevent this from happening.
There is another reason why business leaders may experience FOFO, and that is over-whelm. Many leaders feel overwhelmed by what they are already dealing with and don’t feel they have the energy, time, or mental resources to deal with anything more issues.
When FOFO drives leaders, it leads to actions like:
The shame and guilt that contaminates and infects the fear of finding out about things in our personal lives also impacts the fear we feel as leaders. We feel shame that our leadership may be exposed as lacking and inadequate. We think we will lose credibility and authority, so it is better to remain in denial. We feel guilt that we made a mistake and should have known better. The shame and guilt feed into our FOFO, so we try to ignore or deny what is happening.
This only makes the situation worse.
The old view of leadership was that the leader needed to know the answer to every question that could arise.
These days, it is acknowledged that such a view is unrealistic and detrimental to the leader and the team. There is a recognition that the best answer is arrived at not by one person deciding what will happen but by the team’s collective consciousness.
This recognition has resulted in leadership moving from directing team members to coaching them and asking questions that will allow them to arrive at the best solution for their challenges.
This requires leaders to be humble enough to acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers. Their role is to facilitate and assist the team in arriving at their answers.
The power of humility assists the leader in managing any shame that is attached to their fear of finding out.
When leaders embrace humility, they do not have to fear finding out. However, there is another quality leaders need to develop to address FOFO.
When we experience, fear, we can either allow that fear to dominate our thoughts. Or we can compassionately and gently notice our thinking, which influences and changes our emotional response.
We can’t control when we have a fear response. Fear is an instinctual response to a perceived threat. The body doesn’t differentiate between types of threats. For example, the body doesn’t distinguish between a physical threat from a person who threatens to harm you and the emotional threat of your mistake being exposed. Both situations are a threat to the body’s sense of itself.
While we may not be able to control the initial fear response we experience, we can control how we respond to the fear. This takes emotional intelligence, which is the ability to name what we are experiencing and to know that emotions are energies that come and go. This is one of the fundamental reasons why when we develop emotional intelligence, we gently and compassionately notice our emotions rather than become fixated on them.
When as leaders, we exercise humility and emotional intelligence, we don’t have to experience FOFO. Rather than fearing finding out, we develop a sense of curiosity that welcomes finding out. As we model confidence in finding things out, we create confidence in the teams we lead that they are more effective and make a difference when they do not work in an atmosphere of FOFO.