Increase psychological safety by practicing empathy and transparency

Me (Wendy): “Bob, I’m BACK!!”

Bob: “Oh good! Now we can continue our discussion. You mentioned doing a survey, asking those 7 questions, once a quarter. But they seem to be more after the fact. So, are there things we can do beforehand or even during these meetings?”

Me: “ Yes. We can model the right behavior ourselves through how we act.”

Bob: “Ok. Can you elaborate on that?”

Me: “Sure. First, one of the key things that I do, for example, is set the tone of the meeting by framing the invitation at the start of the meeting that everyone is here to learn and align with each other. Remember we said earlier that it was about being openly curious? That’s the message we need to stress and model from the get-go. And by being curious, we need to ensure our behavior matches that. Meaning, if people make mistakes or fail, we need to let them know that 1) it’s OK. And 2) what are the learnings we can glean in order to minimize these in the future.”

Bob: “But we shouldn’t only call out when people make mistakes. We should highlight when things go well also. And ask how we might amplify those things that go well more throughout the company, so more of those things happen.”

Me: “That’s right – you got it! That would cover 2 out of the 7 questions: If you make a mistake on this team, it is often held against you. And, members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues.”

Bob: “Ok, this is all good if we see people making mistakes – we can do that. How do we address the fact that some folks in our department hate being the bearer of bad news? Remember Maria – she was fidgeting during our 1-on-1 time, and it took me some time to coax the information out of her. She was afraid of bringing up some bad news happening on her team to the rest of the department.”

Me: “Well, we can model that potentially by being more transparent. We have our own bad news to share at times, right? But that is something we can’t model consistently. You mentioned you noticed she was fidgeting. That’s empathy on your part – being able to see someone is distressed and you are able to relate to her and eventually coaxed it out of her.”

Bob: “Ah, that’s good, transparency and empathy! Yes! And that would help with the first question: It is difficult to ask other members of this team for help.”

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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