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Candid Conversations: Understanding Psychological Safety

2 min read
Psychological Safety in Candid Conversations

Psychological safety is the understanding that being honest and open is ok, and in return for the honesty, there won’t be punishment or negative repercussions.

That doesn’t mean a culture that is psychologically safe has cruelty and tactless banter, but rather, the team responsibly considers the topic at hand, how the group works as a whole, or upcoming projects and shares their thoughts to advance the conversation.

This includes sharing innovative ideas, challenging the popular opinion, or considering an idea from multiple perspectives.

In addition to sharing, the team’s reception to that honesty is vital. Even if on the surface an idea isn’t the best, or even turns out to be a flop, giving the idea time to breathe shows the sharer their idea was valuable.

Because we are often taught to mind authority and to not challenge the current practices, this can be quite an obstacle to overcome.

As a sharer, here are some things to remember.

  • Be as clear as you can.
    When sharing an idea, its ok to not have it completely mapped out, but when you take too long to get to the point, you lose listeners.
  • It’s ok for an idea not to work out.
    Sharing in a group might be intimidating because having an audience find out your idea flopped can be embarrassing. It’s ok! Being vulnerable means you are putting collaboration before ego.
  • It’s how you say it.
    When challenging an idea, curiosity, not blame, sets a positive tone for the conversation.
  • Ask what you don’t know.
    Asking a question that everyone else seems to know the answer to is just as important. Many times, other people have the same question, but don’t feel comfortable asking.

As a listener, here are some things to remember.

  • The sharer is just like you.
    They have ideas, beliefs, a desire to do well in their role, and wants the best for the team.
  • Being vulnerable is scary.
    Even when it is engrained in the culture for a long time, being vulnerable can be intimidating. Be kind and patient.
  • You may have more knowledge in this area then they do.
    If everyone on the team knew the same things, there wouldn’t be a need for a team. If you have a data point that could offer clarity to their point, wait until they are done speaking and share in a responsible and psychologically safe way.
  • Truly listen, even when it is your ideas being challenged.
    We all strive to have the best ideas. Having an idea challenged can be a tough. Being open to feedback and willing to view the idea from a new vantage point creates an opportunity for the idea to become more polished and maybe even more successful.

In your team, which practices do you already have in place? Which could you start working on today?

*Executive Coaching Connections LLC was acquired by Ariel Group in 2022. They are a global people and organizational development advisory firm that has successfully supported the biggest companies, public, private, and family-owned, and their most senior executives for more than 20 years. They are best known for their proprietary, 8-step coaching methodology which incorporates a holistic approach proven to drive desired results.


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