Our article focuses on anxiety, which is an integral but still often ignored aspect of HRD. The context of our study is a particular HRD intervention in Higher Education (HE): the part-time MBA and here, for a group of managers who had taken less typical routes into HE and for whom anxiety was often heightened. Drawing on interviews with twenty students, we offer three contributions. First, we provide in-depth understandings of the manifestations of anxiety in MBA programs highlighting its location in self-other relations, and so progress understandings of anxiety as a social phenomenon. Second, we then provide insights into how these self-other relations simultaneously play an integral role in the development of a capacity for ‘negative capability’: that is an ability to recognize the anxiety of not knowing inherent to the learning environment, and with trusted others to contain it, until it has informed us to allow for the emergence of new insights and learning. Third, we illustrate the ways in which this capacity can also be mobilized in students’ everyday managerial work by providing a starting point for public reflection. We suggest that these contributions offer promise for advancing critical forms of HRD.