Don’t Let Bad Feelings Fester – Bring Your FUDA into the Light

Atomic Object employs a group of smart, high-performing, passionate, diverse, and flawed human beings. It’s inevitable that each of us will occasionally experience “bad feelings” at work. As a company, we’ve put a lot thought into how to handle the bad feelings that occasionally arise during our time at work. One of the steps we’ve taken is extending the acronym FUD to “FUDA” as a shorthand for bad feelings and a prescription for how to handle them.

Two Atomic Object employees have a crucial conversation

In this post, I’ll share some of our thoughts on FUDA, how we work to resolve it when it comes up, and my perspective on it as a managing partner at Atomic.

What is FUDA?

FUDA is an acronym that stands for fear, uncertainty, doubt, and anger. The term itself is nothing too innovative–we just added “anger” to FUD. Nor are the feelings different from what I’ve experienced working for other companies in my career. What’s different is how we talk about what FUDA means, and how we, as individuals and as a company, are expected to handle it.

At Atomic, individuals have a lot of control over projects and our work environment. However, each letter in FUDA rears its head from time to time:

  • Fear: “The economy is crashing. Will AO go out of business?”
  • Uncertainty: “I’m starting on a new project and I have no idea what’s going on! What are we doing here?!”
  • Doubt: “I don’t think my colleague is pulling his/her own weight.”
  • Anger: “The new [company policy] is some unfair bullshit!”

Hard feelings. They can quickly turn an office into a toxic work environment if not resolved.

At Atomic, we believe:

  1. It is okay (and even expected, from time to time) for Atoms to be in a state of FUDA with respect to work.
  2. It is not okay to remain passively in a state of FUDA.
  3. Atoms should offer to help resolve a colleague’s FUDA when they observe it.

Whose responsibility is it to clear FUDA?

In a word, everyone’s. We expect Atoms who are feeling FUDA to actively seek help from a person in a position to help. Depending on the situation, that person is often not a manager, but another fellow Atom who has experienced a similar situation and can offer support.

We expect those who observe others having FUDA to speak up about it. As a company made up of people who care about each other, we all need to look out for these situations and lend a hand.

How does handling FUDA reflect our values?

Atomic Object has six core values. Three of the values speak directly to how we handle FUDA: Own It, Give a Shit, and Teach and Learn.

Own It: The individual who is feeling FUDA should own his or her problem and take active steps to clear it. It’s one reason we require all our employees to read Crucial Conversations when they join Atomic–the book describes tools that are incredibly useful in the hard (crucial) conversations that come up when clearing FUDA.

Give a Shit: We expect Atoms to watch for signs of someone struggling with FUDA and proactively reach out, taking steps to resolve it. Long-term, unresolved FUDA has a corrosive effect on culture and workplace environment.

Teach and Learn: Probably the most common scenario is run-of-the-mill uncertainty and the need to get advice from someone more experienced in the company. I feel very fortunate that I work at a company where asking for help is welcome, and I am surrounded by so many bright, experienced people.

More recently, we have focused on adding additional support to project teams and individuals by creating Senior Strategist and Delivery Lead (Jason, Matt, and Brittany) roles within the company. We also offer access to an anonymous, external employee assistance program as a benefit to our employees.

My Perspective as a Manager

We sometimes joke (tongue-in-cheek) that we are “good managers of self-managing people.” However, there is some truth to that statement–it’s reinforced by the responsibility we expect and the empowerment we give to individual Atoms when it comes to handling FUDA.

We believe unresolvable FUDA is almost always due to an irreconcilable mismatch of values or goals. In such cases, we strive to avoid “right/wrong” judgments and move forward with integrity and honesty to pursue separate paths.

As a manager, I have found empathy to be an important part of dealing with FUDA, especially when helping people who come to me with problems. In these situations, empathy cuts both ways. It can be hard to avoid feeling bitter as a manager when people come to you with FUDA–especially if you feel like you’re becoming a dumping ground for problems–so we need to pause and put ourselves in their shoes.

Conversely, an employee feeling FUDA should empathize with his or her manager, who often has goals that are at odds with each other (e.g., making individuals happy in the moment vs. doing what’s right in the long term for the company).

Ultimately, there is no silver bullet for FUDA, but we have found success handling it by feeling empathy and remembering our shared values.