Culture

Allodoxaphobia – the Fear of other People’s Opinions: Is that a Workplace Thing?

Americans actually fear not having an opinion to give.  Research has demonstrated that we will even provide opinions on fake subjects (such as our attitude towards completely fictitious drugs listed on a survey).  We can’t stand to be without firmly held convictions on pretty much any subject, real or imagined.  And if we can’t come up with our own, we’ll use somebody else’s, as others are all too willing to provide us with filler.  George Bernard Shaw once wisely observed, “If you leave the smallest corner of your head vacant for a moment, other people’s opinions will rush in from all quarters.”  We do so love expressing an opinion.

But apparently, there are unfortunate individuals that are pathologically afraid of other people’s opinions. If your neighbor is in the Klu Klux Klan or works for Fox News, you might be justified in a certain level of trepidation when they express their opinion.  That’s just plain sane, and obviously not the specific malady I am referring to.  I’m talking about a phobia so severe that the poor folks are literally afraid to listen. I mean, all out fear of listening to other people’s feedback or opinions to the point that their palms get sweaty, heart rate increases, and rapid or shallow breathing ensues. Further they experience extreme nausea, and not the “you’re so stupid, I think I’m going to be sick, sort of nausea.  More like being 9 months pregnant in New York City in the month of August. And yes, I’m still bitter about that.  But anyway, I am actually referring to a psychological problem called allodoxaphobia.  I swear it is a real phobia.  Trust me, I’m a psychologist. Officially, allodoxaphobia is a psychological disorder characterized by an overwhelming and irrational fear of other people’s opinions. Fortunately, this is a fairly unusual and rare disorder, or so say the clinical psychologists (when you wake them up during a therapy session), which in some cases can make it all the worse for those who suffer from it—they may feel isolated or stigmatized by their condition.

However, as a social psychologist that specializes in organizational psychology I want to posit that this phobia is not all that rare in the workplace.  I think I have figured it out. I feel like I stayed at a Holiday Inn last night. I have been wondering for years why certain colleagues just couldn’t sit still and actually listen to feedback or the opinions of others.  They claim to want it. Will ask for it in a meeting, and when others start to provide their opinion, said individual literally turns away, walks away, starts sewing, or hangs up the phone.  In such situations, I have thought, wow that person is manifesting an acute dismissal of other people’s opinions. Actually, I usually think, “what a jerk”, but jerkiness puzzlingly has no entry in the DSM 5.  Apparently, there is a DSM diagnosis for allodoxophobia and there are medications to treat it.  Can that be distributed in the watercooler, or would that be some sort of OSHA violation? Most people experience fear as a healthy response to a dangerous situation. But do other people’s opinions constitute a dangerous situation? It just might for those who believe their own hype or those bent on ruling a workplace according to their own grandiosity or megalomania.  I recall a staff member once literally ran from me as I tried to get her to acknowledge that what she does during work hours in the workplace (or in this case outside) was in my need to know zone. She kept saying she didn’t need my opinion and that I shouldn’t engage in psych 101.  The irony of saying that to a trained psychologist is tragically comic.  All this stemmed from me stating that leaving at noon, not returning, and not letting anyone know constituted a breach of workplace rules. Actually being at work, or telling people why you’re not where you are supposed to be is sometimes considered optional.  Apparently, that was just my opinion and she had to run away from me. It was as if she suffered from allodoxaphobia.

Now, while the phobia is real (or as real as we are led to believe anything in the DSM is), it is rare and I do not believe that all our colleagues are suffering from the real thing. But it sure seems the workplace is full of people who are suffering a mild form of allodoxaphobia. Or rather, it seems that society is suffering from said malady. I would say that is the state of a lot of our current leadership. Considering that we focus group everything to death it is amazing that there are people who are fearful of opinions. It seems that you can just pay off another focus group to come up with the opinion that you like.  But as Abraham Lincoln noted: “public opinion in this country is everything.”  But as Anthony Weiner demonstrates, with his NYC mayoral campaign, many in the public sphere still have a tin ear when it comes to others’ opinions.  Some could argue that the reason for not paying so much attention to other’s opinions is that one can then be true to oneself.  As Lincoln’s statement of over a century ago demonstrates, we live in a society obsessed with opinion. Perhaps then such a fear of other’s opinion is just a protective mechanism.  However, here is a major problem for those suffering from allodoxaphobia (or the workplace version thereof), as noted by Marcus Aurelius “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth”.  So, those leaders that cannot take hearing or processing other people’s opinions are in big trouble as we cannot but be confronted with other’s opinions of the world and of ourselves.  May as well curl up in a ball and go to your happy place.  I do understand, however, the need to buffer oneself from other’s opinions, especially when those individuals are just plain old toxic.  We must develop a keen eye for determining who is toxic and ensure that their opinion does not become our reality. I was once told that I was paranoid because I am careful as to who I confide in at the workplace. Mind you, this was a workplace emotional bleeder and gossiper. In other words, a toxic individual. In no way, should I let that person’s opinion become any part of my self-worth or understanding.

A work colleague recently engaged in a cool task. They were asked to put together a quick sentence or two for a news reporter about who they were.  They had a difficult time coming up with a succinct yet memorable statement. They then instead texted friends asking them for how they would describe her. It takes guts to seek out other’s opinion of oneself. This task was then suggested to someone else to which she received the reply of “I already receive an annual review. That is more than enough.” A little allodoxaphobia? Considering that at least once a year everybody has to undergo a process whereby they sit and listen to a supposedly objective review of one’s abilities, perhaps it is a bit healthy to run away every once a while when an opinion-filled colleague heads your way.   Why would I state that? Well, I am of the opinion that H.P. Lovecraft had it right when he noted that: “I am disillusioned enough to know that no man’s opinion on any subject is worth a damn unless backed up with enough genuine information to make him really know what he’s talking about”.  Yup, I am not afraid of other’s opinions. I am not suffering from allodoxaphobia. I am just not afraid of data and facts as so many seem to be these days.  So take a middle ground, don’t run away from informed opinions. But run like the wind from an uninformed one.

If you want an explanation of allodoxaphobia check out this youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8UpU5EhoFI

 

 

16 replies »

  1. I guess one of the products of democracy is that anyone can have an opinion and voice it publicly – and many politicians in recent years downgrade even seemingly good opinions if they don’t suit his/her agenda; one can often hear: that’s his/her opinion, they have a right to one, but … and so in the political life at least, all opinions regardless of whether they’re propped up by facts or not, become prostituted by those whose agenda these don’t suit. Sometimes, or often, we find that people get to think that an opinion is more “believable” or is construed more like “fact” if it comes from an individual in powerful position. So, position one occupies in society often defines value of opinion. This of course is a situation that’s becoming more and more palpable in societies everywhere and one wonders where it will lead. I too always look for facts or data which might back up an opinion and as far as “gossip” is concerned I like the defense-mechanism “only good, strong horses raise dust behind them, as they gallop”.

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  2. In my humble opinion; opinions are like assholes. everyone has one. However, opinions seem to affect reality. Case in point? The lynch mob outside the Phoenix Arizona Courthouse cheering for a 1st degree murder outcome. (Distasteful to say the least) Threatening defense witnesses in person, on the phone & online. Yelling for the death penalty, with toxic talking heads, Nancy Grace & Dr. Drew cheering & telling the masses they are right to do so. “Opinions” can & do hurt people’s lives. And color possible jury pools to the point of not being able to find a non-biased group to stand in judgment, in the jury box. The number of toxic individuals and (pseudo) fully functioning, psychologically diagnosed, melodramatic crazies spewing crap, labeled as opinions, is in no short supply. I believe psychology does have a lot to offer. But with all information, taken with a grain of salt. Here, with the labeling of (seemingly) all human behavior as a diagnosis, is where I bring in that grain of salt.
    Respectfully,
    Teri

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  3. I dont know if i have this kind of phobia but i myself am afraid of hearing opinions of other people….whether from a close friend or stranger.

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  4. I must admit that have never heard the expression “allodoxaphobia” but the following quote concerning opinons quite hit home”:In the past one was not allowed to communicate his thoughts. Today, we are allowed to say anything withouth thinking.”
    Thank you very much for your interesting explanations of the illness.
    Best regards

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