This Often-Overlooked Element takes on Even More Importance as we Return to Face-to-Face Interactions

May 19, 2022

“๐˜ ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ญ๐˜บ ๐˜ธ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ต๐˜ฆ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ต๐˜ฐ ๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ฆ ๐˜ข๐˜ง๐˜ต๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ 1.5 ๐˜ฉ๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜ณ๐˜ด ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ ๐˜‹๐˜ข๐˜บ 1!”

A female participant said to me at the end of a 3-day Program I conducted over the weekend.

“๐˜๐˜ฐ๐˜ธ๐˜ฆ๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ, ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฌ ๐˜บ๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ ๐˜Š๐˜ฐ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ ๐˜ง๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ธ๐˜ข๐˜บ๐˜ด ๐˜ค๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ค๐˜ฌ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ ๐˜ธ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ฉ ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฆ, ๐˜ค๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ด ๐˜ด๐˜ข๐˜ง๐˜ฆ ๐˜ด๐˜ฑ๐˜ข๐˜ค๐˜ฆ, ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ข๐˜ด๐˜ด๐˜ช๐˜จ๐˜ฏ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ฑ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ด ๐˜ฅ๐˜ถ๐˜ณ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜ข๐˜ค๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ท๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฆ๐˜ด ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ต ๐˜บ๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ ๐˜ฌ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฐ๐˜ธ ๐˜ ๐˜ธ๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ญ ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ค๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ๐˜ง๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ข๐˜ฃ๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ธ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ฉ. ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ต’๐˜ด ๐˜ธ๐˜ฉ๐˜บ ๐˜ ๐˜ด๐˜ต๐˜ข๐˜บ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ง๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ 3-๐˜ฅ๐˜ข๐˜บ๐˜ด.”

Tears rolled down her cheeks as she said this to me.

That warmed my heart.

This also made me reflect on a very important topic.

As people are transiting from working from home back to working from offices, events are moving from online back to face-to-face or hybrid events. Peopleโ€™s social skills may not have been as well-practiced, so this is a topic that takes on even more significance!

The Importance of Psychological Safety

Harvard University Professor Amy Edmondson coined the term psychological safety to describe the shared belief that itโ€™s safe to speak up, make mistakes, and be vulnerable. When there is psychological safety, people feel a sense of confidence that they will not be embarrassed, rejected, or punished when they are vulnerable.

The programs I run are usually designed to help participants gain self-awareness, share their personal stories vulnerably and heal themselves from their wounds. In order to do this, I need to create psychological safety.

In all my workshops, I tell my participants to be responsible for their own participation. They can always “tap out” if they’re uncomfortable at any time. There will be NO peer pressure to participate.

This lady had opted out of participating in the first activity, her anxiety very palpable. Sometimes, I could see her visibly nervous about participating in the various activities throughout the program.

It would be natural to think, “๐˜ž๐˜ฉ๐˜บ ๐˜ด๐˜ช๐˜จ๐˜ฏ ๐˜ถ๐˜ฑ ๐˜ง๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ ๐˜ด๐˜ถ๐˜ค๐˜ฉ ๐˜ข ๐˜ฑ๐˜ณ๐˜ฐ๐˜จ๐˜ณ๐˜ข๐˜ฎ ๐˜ช๐˜ง ๐˜บ๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ ๐˜ธ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ’๐˜ต ๐˜ค๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ๐˜ง๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ข๐˜ฃ๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ง๐˜ช๐˜ณ๐˜ด๐˜ต ๐˜ฑ๐˜ญ๐˜ข๐˜ค๐˜ฆ?”

However, I could completely empathize with her, as Iโ€™ve been there before.

As an empath, I have always been a sensitive person. I pick up the emotions and energy of people around me from a young age. I grew up in a household where conflict and violence were common occurrences. Naturally, the sensitivity would cause me to be wound up with emotions that I cannot understand when young. Later in life, I was often bullied in school, and so I developed social anxiety, and would shun huge gatherings.

Today, those experienced have shaped the way I carry myself and run my classes.

I do not just preach about psychological safety, or create it by saying “๐˜ž๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ต’๐˜ด ๐˜ด๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ฅ ๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ด๐˜ต๐˜ข๐˜บ๐˜ด ๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ” (as most trainers would say). I understand Psychological Safety not just from an intellectual perspective, but I feel it right in my BONES. It’s not what I do, it’s what I am BEING from moment to moment. I CANNOT NOT LIVE IT.

Just as a portable WIFI router provides internet connection, I see myself as a walking dispenser of psychological safety.

I was not only managing this lady’s needs. I was managing 20 people’s emotional needs, and it was such a delicate dynamic that requires a lot of emotional attunement. But I was glad I was able to balance everyone’s needs, and to be able to make her feel safe and encouraged to participate. I could see that she grew in confidence as the course went on.

Iโ€™m glad I am able to turn my Pain into my Super Power!

Why Psychological Safety is Often Overlooked

Psychological safety is such a “touchy feely” subject that most people often overlook. People often think they are creating it, but actually they may be unconsciously compromising it by their actions and words.

Think of the following scenarios:

๐Ÿคทโ€โ™‚๏ธ Managers often say “๐˜”๐˜บ ๐˜ฅ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ ๐˜ช๐˜ด ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ธ๐˜ข๐˜บ๐˜ด ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฑ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ” but wonder why nobody ever walks in.

๐Ÿ™„ People usually remain silent about things they disagree with, or even as they see standards being violated (as Boeing experienced in their Organization Culture)

๐Ÿ™†โ€โ™€๏ธ Children often “act out” by wanting to show they are strong or cool, or “act in” by staying glum and quiet.

๐Ÿงโ€โ™‚๏ธ Instead of providing direct feedback to each other, employees complain and gossip about each other, therefore creating a toxic culture.

๐Ÿคซ Employees keep the best ideas to themselves instead of sharing, therefore curtailing the flow of innovation and improvements.

๐Ÿ˜ข People are afraid to reach out to ask for help on mental and emotional issues, and may eventually succumb to self-harm.

A lack of psychological safety is the common reason why they occur in the first place. That’s why we need to recognise the importance of Psychological Safety, and not relegate it to something “touchy feely” and merely “good to have.”

We should not use clever management acronyms like “F.E.A.R = False Evidence Appearing Real” to minimise people’s feelings of fear. Minimising emotions is a sure way of actually ensuring they fester and cripple a person. Instead, we should aim to provide psychological safety to people who work with us, because only then, can they feel safe to be at their best.

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