During a recent coaching session, a client expressed his dissatisfaction with his organization and function. The issues were "on my shoulders," he said, and his organization is "usually trying to get you." He also said he felt "personally targeted." One thing was abundantly obvious right away: my coachee did not feel psychologically safe at work. The extent to which his impression was accurate will be examined in later sessions.
The idea of psychological safety is nothing new; in fact, it has existed for a very long time (think Maslow and his legendary Hierarchy of Needs). It is "a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking," according to Harvard professor Amy Edmondson.
In other words, it's a setting where people are free to be themselves, participating, discussing, and challenging ideas without worrying about criticism or repercussions.
Google conducted a massive data analysis project called Project Aristotle in an effort to determine what made its high-performing teams unique from others. The findings suggested that a number of factors were in play, but psychological safety was the one that was most constant and essential to all high-performing teams.
No one wants to put on a "work face" when they arrive at the workplace, as Project Aristotle has taught Google employees. Nobody wants to leave a piece of their inner selves and characteristics behind.
However, in order to be completely present at work and to be "psychologically safe," we need to be certain that we can be free enough to occasionally discuss the things that make us uncomfortable without being held accountable. We need to be able to discuss unpleasant or sad topics and have difficult conversations with coworkers who are driving us mad. We cannot limit our attention to efficiency. 2016 (NY Times) This conclusion is supported by Edmondson's study, which shows that psychological safety predicts quality enhancements, learning behaviors, and productivity.
It is not unexpected that psychological safety is a foundational component of performance and engagement. Our brains are focused with identifying hazards and rewards in our surrounds, according to neuroscientific research. “There is no culture-neutral behaviour” according to a Hay Group Partner.
What actions can brain-friendly leaders do to promote psychological safety for their teams?
Here are five recommendations that you can use right away:
1. Be vulnerable — Humans are hardwired to connect with other people. So be human; express how you feel, what matters to you, and what worries you. Also, don't worry about being seen as weak if you're concerned about that. It is, in fact, "our highest measure of courage," as University of Texas at Austin professor Brené Brown tells us. People frequently give more of themselves in return as a form of reciprocation. True connection and trust only develop during that time..
2. Listen with sincerity - We all claim to be good listeners, but are we? I will always be indebted to a brave teammate who pointed out that after asking my team for feedback on how well our meetings went, I had inadvertently silenced any helpful criticism. I was clueless. Being truly receptive requires making a conscious effort to be present, pay attention to what people are saying, and understand why they are expressing it. By investing that time and effort, you are telling your team members how valuable and safe they are.
3. Offer sincere appreciation - Receiving praise activates the brain's reward system. It uplifts our spirits and strengthens our sense of security. It still requires conscious effort to adopt this behavior because our brains are more likely to notice what is incorrect than what is right. Try regularly noticing and complimenting your team members' good work.
4. Understand that mistakes are just that—mistakes—and that making them is a necessary part of being human. We all make mistakes because we are all human. But we don't always react in that way. If mistakes are not accepted, team members will leave rapidly because of our inclination as humans to identify and avoid threats. What was the outcome? They don't take chances or rise to new challenges. beyond what they are accustomed to. In addition, they are less inclined to acknowledge their errors or ask for help when they do. By being understanding when mistakes are made and even praising them as opportunities to grow, brain friendly leaders may turn things around. By admitting their own frailty, they might also encourage others to acknowledge their own errors. It is human to make mistakes.
5. Help the tribe out - Humans are tribal creatures who require helping relationships. Brain-friendly leaders are aware of this and frequently strengthen tribal ties. They demonstrate their faith in other tribe members as one means of doing this. In other words, allowing team members to contribute without micromanaging in their own genuine manner, in a meaningful way. They also guard them. When the iconic sabre-toothed tiger was about to attack in the past, that would have been done by standing shoulder to shoulder. When stakeholders criticize their work or strategy, it's now about defending them. It's important to show that you are on the same team even though you may not agree with all they say and do. Always.
It is insufficient to use these brain-friendly behaviors occasionally. Instead, if they are serious about fostering a psychologically secure environment, leaders must include them into their daily routines. As Edmondson points out, "Workplace psychological safety requires effort. It's not typical. The effort is worthwhile, though.