Are you open to feedback? Can those around you tell their truth when they give or get feedback?
Leaders who react poorly to bad news or negative feedback teach their people to avoid sharing things. They make it unsafe to take risks. This sets up a cycle where information the leader needs gets minimized or hidden to avoid repercussions.
One of the most interesting findings from the Google study on teams was the importance of psychological safety. This extends beyond teams to leaders. If you want successful change, innovation, or speed of execution then safety is essential.
Psychological safety refers to your perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk. It’s knowing that if you take a risk you will not be labeled as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive. When psychological safety is present, everyone feels confident that they will not be punished for admitting a mistake, humiliated when asking a question, or embarrassed for offering a new idea.
Here are four actions that enhance safety:
1. Ask questions. Don’t tell, command or demand. This simple shift in your conversational approach can radically transform a culture. As Judith Glaser says, “To get to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of the culture, which depends on the quality of relationships, which depends on the quality of conversations. Everything happens through conversations.” Read more about this in her book Conversational Intelligence.
2. Start with commonalities. Don’t focus on the differences. By beginning with what you have in common you build a bridge to explore together. Differences can create oppositional sides and eliminate safety. This does not mean group think – we are not suggesting that everyone must agree. Start with what is shared, and then cultivate a mindset that values listening and diversity to hear the other person. Differences are good. It’s in the collision of different ideas and perspectives that new insights emerge.
3. Be curious. Don’t blame. You can make an observation and restate facts as you understand them. However, moving into blaming or shaming language will immediately derail the conversation and eliminate safety. Fear blocks ideas. Instead, stay curious and seek to understand.
4. Admit mistakes. Don’t make excuses. Leaders who model what they expect from others have a ripple effect. Leaders must do more than talk about what others should do. Leaders must believe and do it. All meaningful change comes from the inside out and starts with the leader. Once you admit your mistakes, you’ve set the stage. Then be prepared to accept team members mistakes and help them learn what to do differently.
Your words and actions create the world that you live in. Have you created a psychologically safe space for your team? Your friends? Your family? Is it “safe to tell the truth” around you?