There are a number of studies and leadership programs that emphasize the importance of psychological safety in order to help others reach their full potential. Psychological safety allows others to access creativity, speak their minds and take risks – all of which are essential to nurturing innovation and high performance in teams.
When the human brain is under stress or our fight or flight response is triggered, it quite literally shuts down our brains access to different perspectives, strategic thinking and analytical reasoning. A study by Barbara L. Fredrickson from the University of North Carolina has found that when we feel positive emotions like trust, curiosity, confidence and inspiration it creates the best environment for us to build our psychological, social and physical resources. When we feel these positive emotions we naturally become more open-minded, motivated, resilient and persistent.
So how does one create an environment that is challenging but not threatening? An environment where people feel they can take risks and be vulnerable? The following tips are relevant both personally and professionally:
- Pause to Remember the Person – On projects, in teams and in relationships emotions can run high. Can emotions cloud our judgement? Yes! Every person has a universal need for respect, competence, social status and autonomy. When we recognize these needs in our interactions it nurtures trust. Scary is the day that computers or robots run the world.....have you seen Terminator? So always remember that the person you’re working with is a human being – Just like you! They want to feel respected, appreciated and competent - Just like you. They have hopes, anxieties and vulnerabilities - Just like you. In moments where you feel yourself moving into an emotional response (e.g. nervous system activation) be sure to take a pause and remember this before reacting.
- Get Curious – When initiating a conversation, if you believe you already have all the facts/answers and know what the other person is thinking then you are not ready to actually converse. This is reflective of you being in a fixed mindset and having a diminished ability to really listen. When another person senses that you’re trying to find fault or lay blame, this triggers defensiveness. Instead, approach the conversation with a growth mindset and seek to really understand all angles. You must believe that there is another perspective and facts you are not aware of in order to keep your mind open and listen effectively.
- Be Collaborative in Problem Solving – A little competition can be healthy in the right circumstances but humans hate losing even more than we love winning. When we feel as though we’ve lost it can trigger attempts to re-establish fairness, social standing and our fight or flight response. Seek to be collaborative when problem solving by asking open ended questions to uncover what the other persons wants, needs and ideas are to achieve the best possible solution for all parties.