By Allison O'Brien
Have you ever been in a meeting really wanting to say something, but instead you stay silent? We’ve all been there. We withhold what we think because we’re afraid of the consequences of sharing our honest opinion, or too scared to push back on an idea or course of action that the rest of the team accepts and agrees upon. We don’t speak up or risk embarrassment because we’re not 100% sure the team will accept or understand what we have to say. Or we simply stay silent because we don’t trust our gut, or we discount what we’re feeling. The root cause of our silence can often be linked to a deeper systemic issue, a lack of Psychological Safety within our team or perhaps throughout the entire organization.
The term “psychological safety” was coined by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson. She defines it as “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.” In a healthy environment, one in which psychological safety thrives, there is a shared belief that “one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes, and that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking."
History has proven that there can be calamitous outcomes when employees withhold. Think about the Chernobyl disaster and the 2014 GM ignition switch issue, which caused the largest auto recall to date at the time. In both cases, operators, engineers and others close to the work didn’t speak up despite deep concerns. In both cases, there was a company culture of silence, obfuscation, and fear of retribution for raising concerns and voicing opinions. But what if those companies had cultures built upon listening, encouraged diverse perspective and all voices were welcome? Could those disasters have been averted?
Of course, not every withheld opinion results in a company’s financial ruin, reputation downgrade or loss of life. But keeping silent limits innovation and impedes collaborative thinking. We need to build cultures where vulnerability and willingness to share one’s perspective is not just “safe” but is sought after.
The Trifecta: Psychological Safety, Cognitive Diversity, and Listening Intelligence
Research proves that high-stakes decision making, and team productivity improve when different thinkers come together with an ability to not only hear each other out, but search for solutions that combine different viewpoints. That last part is crucial. When we actively seek different viewpoints, the group becomes smarter together than any one individual could be on their own. Cognitive diversity alone won’t guarantee great decisions and high productivity, but it will heighten the chances for a well-rounded strategic perspective, and the way to get there is with psychological safety and a commitment to Listening Intelligence.
What is Listening Intelligence and how can teams develop it?
A crucial step leaders can take to improve psychological safety within their team is to provide formal training using the science of listening. One such training is called LIFT™ - Listening Intelligence for Leaders and Teams. In this modularized training, participants walk away with a new approach to listening, gain insights and awareness about their own communication style and learn the SCAN™ Model, a practical framework for navigating conversation.
Listening is a skill. Just like most skills we can develop it with training, attention, and practice. It is built from self-awareness, connection to others and desire to adapt to various conversational circumstances with diverse people.
When teams hold the fundamental tenet of appreciation and respect for unique and potentially conflicting viewpoints, the individuals that make up the team consciously feel more comfortable speaking up. They are willing to respectfully challenge broadly accepted ideas and use Listening Intelligence to navigate high-stakes conversation towards better collaborative outcomes. Thriving teams within psychologically safe cultures are capable of transcending the personality conflicts that often get in the way of solving the real business problems. Contact us to learn more about harnessing Listening Intelligence to create psychological safety.