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Handbook of Organizational Learning and Knowledge Management, Second Edition by MARJORIE A. LYLES, MARK EASTERBY-SMITH

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Anxiety

Anxiety is an emotion that has been widely discussed in relation to learning. Learning involves success and failure, trial and error, triumph and disappointment, presenting individuals and groups with formidable uncertainties and self-doubts liable to trigger anxiety. A common understanding of anxiety is that it is fear without an object—we can’t easily say what makes us anxious. Here, we are using the word in the sense of an apprehensive expectation, or ‘the expectation of a danger’—something to be avoided or controlled, because it ‘incites the feeling of being uncomfortable’ (Salecl, 2004). ‘Being uncomfortable’ is a common emotional state in organizations; indeed emotions have been described as ‘uncomfortable knowledge’ within organizations (Vince, 1999). Anxiety is a major aspect of human experience in organizations. We are not using the word anxiety here as a clinical term, but as ‘a primary aspect of human experience’ (Salecl, 2004). However, categories applied to the clinical diagnosis of anxiety also provide a general idea of the key components of everyday anxiety in organizations. These include: feelings of being ‘on the edge,’ keyed up, wound up, or nervous; the inability to relax; frequent preoccupation with painful thoughts; stress that is out of proportion to the subject matter of the thoughts; feeling apprehensive, a sense of being on the brink of some disaster; feeling restless, a need to be ‘doing’/to be on the move; anticipating the worst; and difficulties ...

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