Originally answered Sep 13, 2017

You are afraid that if you share your knowledge, others may think you are wrong, and reply pointing this out, or think less of you as a result. This is possible, but unlikely. Consider the following:

  1. It is more likely that what you will share is not wrong, and will actually be useful to others.
  2. Most people have empathy, and even if they disagree with you or reply with additional information, they will usually not do so in a disparaging way.
  3. Good community managers foster a positive tone and watch out for any negative behavior. Should anyone give you a hard time, a community manager should intervene to stop it and prevent any further occurrences.
  4. If you try sharing, and your fears are not realized, you can breathe a sigh of relief, and continue sharing in the future.
  5. If you receive positive feedback for what you share in the form of likes, thanks, and praise, that should lessen your fears and provide encouragement for continued sharing.

Related points about the fear of asking and sharing:

From Open the gates and tear down the walls; moving from “need to know” to “need to share”

5 reasons people are afraid to share openly:

  1. Comfort: People are more comfortable sharing or asking one or a few known colleagues.
  2. Trust: People don’t want to share with anyone unless they have an existing, trusting relationship with them.
  3. Fear: People are reluctant to expose their ignorance broadly.
  4. Theft: Others will steal our valuable intellectual property and benefit from it unfairly, or fail to give use the credit.
  5. Abuse: Others will misuse our materials and cause harm, or require us to have to clean up their mess.

Here are counter arguments for each of these:

  1. Comfort: Discussing with just the same few people is like talking in an echo chamber. The same ideas are repeated and agreed upon, but fresh insights from a more diverse set of people are missed.
  2. Trust: Ask people if there would be any harm if people they don’t know are able to benefit from what is being shared, or if they are able to answer a question. The answer will likely be a reluctant “no,” which should help them realize the benefits of being more inclusive. And when this occurs, these people become trusted, and the original concern is reduced or eliminated.
  3. Fear: This is natural, so encourage others to praise, thank, and recognize those who share and ask in the open.
  4. Theft: Remind people that everyone works for the same organization, with the same overall success goals. Thus, “stealing” is not the best way to perceive cross-organizational reuse.
  5. Abuse: Most presentations and documents are of limited value without the context for using them. If you share them, it’s more likely that you will be asked to deliver your presentations or implement projects using your documents than that others will try to use them without your knowledge.

5 related insights:

  1. Why won’t people ask questions in the open? Some people will just not ask in public. You can help these people by posting on their behalf.
  2. The Sound of Silence: Do it in private — Some people will type questions into a private chat, rather than ask them in public.
  3. 8 reasons for working out loud and narrating your work: Multiple people may need to know what is going on, and you don’t know who all of them are; Provide transparency in thinking, decisions, and processes; Model the open way of working; Demonstrate trust.
  4. Why share your knowledge? If I share, then others will apply the knowledge to their business, and we will lose our competitive edge. Actually, sharing encourages people to request that you apply the information you shared; knowledge is information in action, and this is what people actually want, not just written documents.
  5. 16 Reasons Why People Don’t Share Their Knowledge — and what to do about it: They are afraid that if they share knowledge, people they don’t trust will misuse it or use it without attribution. They are afraid of asking or answering a question in public because it may expose their ignorance, make them appear incompetent, or subject them to criticism, blame, or embarrassment for sharing something improper or incorrect. Facilitate ways for people to establish trusting relationships through enterprise social networks and face-to-face meetings. Recognize those who ask, answer, and share in public, and provide ways to ask questions on behalf of others.

Nugget 7. Fear factor

Many people are afraid of failure, blame, criticism, being judged, embarrassment, change, standing out, the unknown, taking the first step, losing control, or being responsible. Seth Godin wrote about this in Linchpin:

“The resistance (the lizard brain) exists to make you safe, which means invisible and unchanged. Signs that the lizard brain is at work:

  • Procrastination
  • You excessively criticize the work of your peers, thus unrealistically raising the bar for your work
  • You criticize anyone who is doing something differently. If they succeed, it means you’ll have to do something differently, too
  • Having an emotional attachment to the status quo
  • Inventing anxiety about the side effects of a new approach

Anxiety is just a pointless form of fear; it’s fear about fear. The resistance is really anxiety; real fear is a response to actual threats, and it’s a perfectly healthy response. Reality is the best antidote for anxiety.”

Common anxieties include:

  • Fear of openness, transparency, and trust — Many leaders prefer secrecy to transparency. They prefer that as few people as possible know what they are up to. This is can be caused by a lack of trust, and it results in an environment where people are reluctant to share. Nugget: Trust others until they give you reason not to.
  • Criticism, blame, second-guessing — Anxiety over these can lead to analysis paralysis, and a reluctance to decide or act. Nugget: The culture of the organization should encourage and celebrate those who take prudent risks, learn from failures, and support one another. Ask your senior leaders to declare that they will eliminate criticism, blame, and ridicule in all interactions with others, and that they expect everyone else to do the same.
  • Social media risk and blocking access — Some organizations are afraid that confidential information will be leaked through social media, and as a result, they try to block access to social media platforms. If someone is determined to leak information, they will find a way to do so, including using a personal device on a home network that is not blocked, or using email or the telephone. Nugget: Trust people to follow the organization’s confidentiality policies, and deal with violations if and when they occur. It’s actually better to know when leaks occur than to be ignorant of them, so social media is better in that it is transparent. For more on this, see Myth Number 8.
  • I don’t want to look like an idiot — Previous nuggets dealt with fears of posting in the open and speaking up on calls. Generally, people don’t want to embarrass themselves, and will go out of their way to fade into the woodwork to avoid appearing ignorant or wrong. Nugget: Praise, recognize, and reward those who are bold enough to post, reply, and speak. And get senior leaders to do this regularly. This will set the tone that rather than shame, positive things will result from overcoming the fear of looking bad.
  • Avoiding something new — whenever an innovative approach is proposed, it will encounter resistance from those who are afraid that it might not work. An example is when I proposed using a BarCamp for an all-hands meeting. The meeting planner was reluctant to try a different method, even though it sounded good, because it had not previously been used. Nugget: I spent a lot of time reassuring him that I would personally make sure that the new approach would succeed. Patience, persistence, and perseverance paid off in the end. Try things out by quickly implementing, continuously improving, and iterating. See Insight Number 2 for more.

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager https://sites.google.com/site/stangarfield/