How to CLEARly have psychological safety at meetings

Bob: “Well, Wendy, what do we need to do to start building psychological safety?”

Me (Wendy): “Good question. There are a number of ways. According to Modern Agile, we can establish meeting safety when we begin a meeting by agreeing to be CLEAR.”

Bob: “What do you mean by agreeing to be CLEAR? Aren’t we always clear?”

Me: “CLEAR stands for Curious, caring & open-minded, Listen to one another, Encourage everyone to contribute, Avoid dominating or interrupting, and Repeat & review people’s points.”

Bob: “Oh! Then, is there anything specific we need to do to be CLEAR?”

Me: “Well, remember how we aligned everyone for the training at the start? This goes before the alignment. This is a team agreement that the people who are meeting agree on how to behave before the meeting starts. So, we would say something like, “Can we agree to be CLEAR?” This means people agree to keep an open mind, be curious, and care about others. People should also practice listening and understanding others first with what they are saying, not immediately pass judgment or respond. How many times have you been in a conversation or meeting where after saying one thing, you immediately get shut down, or your point is dismissed – even though you haven’t explained your context fully? How did that make you feel?”

Bob: “Oh yeah – at that point, I didn’t want to be in the meeting – and it just started.”

Me: “Yes, your psychological safety was broken. And it made it harder for you to stay in the meeting, much less contribute, right? By agreeing to be CLEAR, and what each letter means at the beginning of the meeting, and having everyone agree to it – that’s how you start building psychological safety.”

Bob: “At every meeting?”

Me: “Well, yes. This is the team agreement on how the people in the meeting agree to behave in each meeting. Besides, when we ask, “Can we agree to be CLEAR?” at the beginning of every meeting, it’s a good reminder to people on how they should act. If they don’t act that way, we can point out that they are not doing what they agreed on. That is how to build psychological safety step by step.”

Bob: “Ah, I get it now! So, by being able to call it out when people are behaving differently than what they agreed on, that’s also part of what having psychological safety means, to be able to flag issues while still supporting each other. That way, it will lead to having an environment where we can debate serious issues without tearing down the trust.”

Me: “YES, exactly! Psychological safety is not built in one day. It is built one meeting at a time, one day at a time.”

Read Wendy’s entire story here

If you want to know more about how to apply psychological safety in your day-to-day work, check out the foundation of psychological safety.


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