Unmasking a silent threat: how hiding insecurity kills productivity

Productivity is a popular topic. I have written about several famous books and frameworks that aim to increase personal productivity for knowledge workers. Even more prominent are frameworks and tools that aim to increase productivity in team collaboration. However, there is one thing rarely discussed in the writing around personal productivity that has the – often fulfilled – potential to nullify many of the efforts to be more productive. I am talking about personal insecurities.   

Insecurity is a silent killer of productivity causing tremendous waste in product development. The act of trying to hide the insecurity is what actually causes most of the damage. It’s not obvious how this happens but it is all around us. 

That project status meeting where one person always restarts the discussion after seemingly all has been decided: probably caused by insecurity. That manager that is unable to truly listen to your problems: likely insecure. That colleague of yours that won’t ask for help but makes many simple mistakes: the reason is probably insecurity. 

This is the topic I want to explore today. I want to raise awareness and show how insecurity kills productivity. 

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Insecurity by itself isn’t the issue, trying to hide it is

The obvious manifestation of insecurity is someone that is shy. While that may lead to some problems – not addressing issues or being hesitant to provide valuable input in discussions come to mind – it’s also not the worst thing. In my experience shy people gradually become more confident and thus more open and involved. It just takes some time. 

Far worse are those that are trying to hide their insecurity. Doing so clouds thinking and judgment. An insecure person that is trying to hide it is so focused on how he is perceived by others and trying with all he can to not stand out negatively. Thus, he is no longer able to focus on what is truly important. 

In the best case he doesn’t provide the best solutions. In the worst case he may actively cause harm by doing outright stupid things. I strongly believe many of the bad decisions we see every day are caused by this. 

The real issue is therefore how we deal with our insecurities. Hiding it often happens subconsciously. It is in my view the undervalued root cause of many common problems we see in product development.

It’s normal to be insecure

Now, I am not trying to shame those that have issues with insecurity. Nor am I trying to brag about how confident I am. I am not. Insecurity is normal. I often have doubts and am anxious, probably like most of you at times. For me this is particularly true in big groups. Even if it is in a relaxed or not work related setting, I feel insecure and don’t know how to act. 

In the professional context the worst way to deal with insecurity is to try and hide it. This causes a lot of waste in various ways. 

Ways hiding insecurity causes problems

It’s not that hard to spot those that are insecure but trying to hide it. Most of the time they end up being loud and seem overconfident. This can cause problems, from wasted meetings to unsolved interpersonal issues to simple mistakes. I am sure you have witnessed one of the following ways hiding one’s insecurity causes waste. 

The manager that doesn’t listen

Think of the manager whom you’re speaking to about some issues between the team members. As soon as you are done explaining a part of the problem, he provides advice. Or worse, he interrupts to give advice. He obviously isn’t listening closely to truly understand but rushes to answer. 

More often than not, this manager is insecure and trying to hide it. He may be in over his head and doesn’t know how to deal with this situation. Quickly providing advice is the comfortable and easy thing to do. Nevertheless, it often doesn’t solve the issue. He feels the pressure to immediately provide a solution. This solution will likely be insufficient as he didn’t take the time to fully understand the problem. 

The person that always has to weigh in, loudly

Similarly, remember the last big meeting where the status of some project or initiative was discussed. Doesn’t it seem like there is always that one person, often from middle management, who always needs to share her opinion, loudly.  

Usually, this opinion doesn’t add anything to the discussion. More often than not, it wastes time and energy by re-opening a discussion concluded prior. But it is important for this person to make a contribution, to seem relevant. She feels the need to seem confident in front of her peers or higher ups. Deep down, she is often insecure. 

The project manager that makes simple mistakes

Think of the project manager that seems to constantly make basic mistakes. More often than not, he is so worried about what people think of him that he can’t focus on what’s truly important. He emphasizes the wrong things and is constantly stressed causing him to be unable to thoroughly think through problems. Thus, he makes simple mistakes, all the time.  

The one that doesn’t ask for help

Have you encountered the person that never asks for help? You may have offered to support or provided the contact to someone who can help quickly solve a problem. A few days pass and you learn she is still working on this issue by herself. 

Instead of picking up the phone to ask for help, this person always tries to find her own solutions. This takes longer and usually produces worse results. She feels insecure, doesn’t want to seem unknowledgeable, and thus thinks she needs to come up with all solutions on her own. 

Be transparent – nobody is perfect

So while there are many ways insecurity causes waste, we often aren’t aware that hiding it is the cause of that waste which then silently kills productivity. The thing is we do have a choice of how we deal with insecurity. 

It’s hard but the best way to deal with it is to be transparent and open about the insecurity. 

It’s perfectly fine to say “I don’t know”. It’s perfectly fine to keep quiet if there is nothing to add in a discussion. It’s perfectly fine to ask for help. It’s perfectly fine to not know the perfect advice right away. 

Accepting this relieves pressure from yourself and from the situation. It also shows you are authentic which has a host of positive side effects. 

I understand that not all company cultures are conducive to being so open. Someone needs to go first, though. Doing so ist the first step to creating an atmosphere where it is ok for everyone to be transparent about their insecurities. 

Who are we kidding anyway? Nobody is perfect. And we are under enough pressure in product development as is. There is no need for us to fabricate more for ourselves.