What is FOPO and is it holding you back in your personal life and at work?

What is FOPO and is it holding you back in your personal life and at work?

By Julie Smith, author of ‘Coach Yourself Confident’

Have you ever noticed yourself taking on extra tasks when you’re already stretched thin? Or accepting social invitations when all you crave is a quiet evening at home? Perhaps you’ve caught yourself nodding along to someone else’s viewpoint, even though you hold a contrary opinion deep down.

If any of these scenarios sound familiar, you might be grappling with FOPO: Fear of Other People’s Opinions.

There’s a proper name for FOPO: allodoxaphobia. Allodaxaphobic individuals are afraid of listening to feedback of any kind. Hearing someone express an opinion about them triggers sweaty palms, accelerated heart rate and feelings of nausea. Whilst not many of us fear the opinion of others to quite the extent of a phobia, we’re wired to care about what others think of us. For early humans, not caring about others’ reactions might have led to being banished from the tribe; a dangerous position.


We’re wired to care. But that doesn’t mean that we have to fear. It’s the F in FOPO that’s the issue because fear can hold us back. For those of us who battle with self-doubt, the fear is heightened because we already have an inner critic who is overly alert to our shortcomings; we don’t need additional critical voices. We really don’t want other people to signpost our flaws, and we let our FOPO hold us back. We avoid disagreement for fear that it will lead others to think badly of us. We avoid the spotlight so that the risk of our (human) imperfections being seen is reduced.

If you recognise that FOPO is holding you back, I invite you to swap FOPO for CAPO – when it comes to the opinions of others, you trade ‘fear of’ for ‘care about.’ Whilst fear holds us back, care carries us forward. Caring about other people’s opinions underpins our ability to collaborate, to work well with others, to be a good friend.


What helps us to move from fear to care? Here are some practices to try:

Celebrate not being everyone’s cup of tea. It seems to me that there’s a false assumption sitting beneath FOPO. The assumption that if you try hard enough, it’s possible to be viewed positively by everyone you come across. If you can let go of this fantasy and accept that you can never be everyone’s cup of tea then you can become more comfortable with being you. Not a bland, accommodating, watered down version of you, but you in glorious technicolour.

Value your own opinion. At the end of the day, there’s one opinion of you that matters more than the others: yours. You can practice this in relation to how you evaluate your impact at work – try to give yourself objective feedback, noting down what you have achieved and how you did it. Look out for your successes, large and small, and make a note of learnings too. Of course feedback from others can be valuable, but it should be viewed alongside your own opinions.

Displease others. FOPO feeds people-pleasing. We seek to please others in order to avoid any risk of them holding a negative opinion of us. Of course, pleasing people is not in itself a bad thing; it’s wonderful to demonstrate kindness or to help someone out. But FOPO-driven pleasing is a compulsion rather than a choice, and we find it immensely difficult to disappoint those around us. There will be times when what you want and need clashes with what is being asked of you by someone else. Setting aside FOPO and increasing your ability to displease others means noticing these clashes and choosing to say no to the request that’s being made of you. I’m reminded of a scene from Friends when Joey asks Phoebe to help put together Ross’s new furniture. Phoebe’s reply: ‘I wish I could… but I don’t want to.’

Learn to say no. Perhaps a few of us could do with an inner Phoebe to help us to say yes only when we want to do so, not out of a sense of duty or obligation. This might feel like a big shift to make, so here’s a place to start: delay the yes. Start small by interrupting the automatic yes response and giving yourself time to think about it, time to notice how you really feel about the request. Want to help a friend put their IKEA wardrobe together? Great – go for it. Need to spend your evening resting after a hectic week? Channel your inner Phoebe and say no.

FOPO is human. It’s common. And it holds us back. Finding ways to live with the inevitability that some people will see us in ways that we don’t like can be uncomfortable at first, but ultimately it liberates us. We become free to share our point of view, to ask for what we need, to say no, and to step into the spotlight and allow ourselves the opportunity to shine.

Julie Smith is a sought-after leadership coach, author of Coach Yourself Confident: Ditch the self-doubt tax, unlock humble confidence (Practical Inspiration Publishing, 20 February 2024) and founder of Talent Sprout, a highly respected leadership consultancy.