The news has been full of people who make wild claims about solving the Coronavirus pandemic. Disinfectant, ultraviolet light, malaria drug? The problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts. And therefore the wise ones keep quiet, or are suppressed by the louder, authoritarian, extroverts.
This brings in to play the concept of “Psychological Safety”.
We live in a knowledge economy. The ideas and knowledge that people bring that really add value in the marketplace. So we need to hear from people and yet it’s shown in research and data that many people feel that they cannot speak up at work.
In some studies it shows that as many as 50% of the employees say that they do not feel it safe or their place to speak up. That means we are losing enormous value we are missing out on game changing ideas that could become part of a new product or service. In the context of a cure for Coronavirus, we might miss a threat or opportunity that somebody saw. By bringing this to the business, it may have been the difference between the success and failure of a project.
To create a culture that invites new ideas, we need to be challenging our leaders to be willing to say sorry for mistakes. Chastising people for not coming to you or speaking out will only continue the stifling culture. Saying things like “but my door is always open, why didn’t you come to me” is a “me first attitude”. To help create change from within, or intrepreneurship. leaders we need to first think “what was it that I did or did the leadership team do that stopped people wanting to volunteer the good advice or thoughts?”
The ability of people to come to work and have the confidence to be able to speak up about what they think and what they see is mission-critical to create an evolving and leading business.
“There’s no team without trust,” says Paul Santagata, Head of Industry at Google. He knows the results of the tech giant’s massive two-year study on team performance, which revealed that the highest-performing teams have one thing in common: psychological safety, the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake. Studies show that psychological safety allows for moderate risk-taking, speaking your mind, creativity, and sticking your neck out without fear of having it cut off — just the types of behavior that lead to market breakthroughs.
When the workplace feels challenging but not threatening, teams can perform better. In Google’s fast-paced, highly demanding environment, their success hinges on the ability to take risks and be vulnerable in front of peers.
So how can you increase psychological safety on your own team? Try replicating the steps that Santagata took with his:
- Approach conflict as a collaborator, not an adversary.We humans hate losing even more than we love winning. Santagata knows that true success is a win-win outcome, so when conflicts come up, he avoids triggering a fight-or-flight reaction by asking, “How could we achieve a mutually desirable outcome?”
- Speak human to human.Underlying every team’s who-did-what confrontation are universal needs such as respect, competence, social status, and autonomy. Recognizing these deeper needs naturally elicits trust and promotes positive language and behaviors. Santagata reminded his team that even in the most contentious negotiations, the other party is just like them and aims to walk away happy. He led them through a reflection called “Just Like Me,”which asks you to consider:
- This person has beliefs, perspectives, and opinions, just like me.
- This person has hopes, anxieties, and vulnerabilities, just like me.
- This person has friends, family, and perhaps children who love them, just like me.
- This person wants to feel respected, appreciated, and competent, just like me.
- This person wishes for peace, joy, and happiness, just like me.
- Anticipate reactions and plan countermoves. Think through in advance how your audience will react to your message. This helps ensure your content will be heard, versus your audience hearing an attack on their identity or ego.
- What are my main points?
- What are three ways my listeners are likely to respond?
- How will I respond to each of those scenarios?
- Replace blame with curiosity. If team members sense that you’re trying to blame them for something, they will get defensive. John Gottman’s research at the University of Washington shows that blame and criticism reliably escalate conflict, leading to defensiveness and — eventually — to disengagement. The alternative to blame is curiosity. If you believe you already know what the other person is thinking, then you’re not ready to have a conversation. Instead, adopt a learning mindset, knowing you don’t have all the facts. Use phrases such as:
- State the problematic behaviour or outcome as an observation, and use factual, neutral language. For example, “In the past two months there’s been a noticeable drop in your participation during meetings and progress appears to be slowing on your project.”
- Engage them in an exploration. For example, “I imagine there are multiple factors at play. Perhaps we could uncover what they are together?”
- Ask for solutions. The people who are responsible for creating a problem often hold the keys to solving it. That’s why a positive outcome typically depends on their input and buy-in. Ask directly, “What do you think needs to happen here?” Or, “What would be your ideal scenario?” Another question leading to solutions is: “How could I support you?”
- Ask for feedback on delivery.Asking for feedback on how you delivered your message disarms your opponent, illuminates blind spots in communication skills, and models fallibility, which increases trust in leaders. Examples include:
- What worked and what didn’t work in my delivery?
- How did it feel to hear this message?
- How could I have presented it more effectively?
- Measure psychological safety. Periodically ask your team how safe they feel and what could enhance their feeling of safety. Take surveys and include questions such as “How confident are you that you won’t receive retaliation or criticism if you admit an error or make a mistake?”
If you create this sense of psychological safety on your own team starting now, you can expect to see higher levels of engagement, increased motivation to tackle difficult problems, more learning and development opportunities, and better performance.
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