Fall is around the corner in the Northern Hemisphere, and for many, this means new school year, increased buzz in the working world, and rejuvenated busy-ness after a slower summer. With this up tempo in activity all around, greater tensions can also arise. People seem less relaxed and forgiving as they are during the summer months, and often return to a heightened level of anxiety and stress. This anxiety is often associated with unsaid conflict in relationships or feeling that we can’t be honest. Perhaps it’s that colleague that drives you a little bananas always coming in late and asking you to cover or maybe it’s a problem you see in a project that no one wants to raise. When we don’t feel safe to voice these concerns, we keep it inside to no one’s benefit. Even Google found that the one thing that makes great teams is this sense of safety. To stymie these concerns that give rise to tensions, it is important for us to be more mindful of how to create and cultivate environments where we can feel safe and comfortable to express things that not only inhibit our ability to live honestly, but also our ability to be as productive as possible.

Psychological Safety

Amy Edmondson articulates the meaning and importance of psychological safety – the belief that it is okay to speak up. She notes that in a climate of openness, people can feel safe to recognize uncertainty as well as the importance of interdependence. An environment where people feel safe to be vulnerable, to fail, and to ask questions is an environment where individuals and teams can thrive.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”

~ Brené Brown

Feeling safe allows for greater risk-taking.

  1. Suspend judgment

We all listen with filters. As much as we like to think we’re great listeners, our human brains are wired to listen from our own perspectives with all its preconceived notions and opinions. As difficult as it is, when we suspend judgment of whatever is being said to us, check ourselves before we say something (or make a face), we allow the other person to feel safer in making their statements. Watch your inclination to jump to a conclusion or even your facial features (was that a slight eye roll?).

  1. Don’t problem solve

For some of us, we are used to solving problems. Including others. We listen and we think – oh, this is what you should do. Or perhaps for more “sophisticated” of us, we say, “if I were you…but I’m not you.” When we jump to solving someone’s problems, we take away their power and agency. We also put ourselves in a position of superiority (e.g. I know what’s best for you). Sometimes, others just want to vocalize a problem. They don’t need an answer from you. They just want to verbalize it. If they want your opinion, they will ask.

  1. Embrace failure

Failure seems to be the buzzword on overdrive these days. Yet indeed, when we welcome the oops as learning opportunities, and allow ourselves to learn from – and even laugh at – them, we are letting others know that is is okay to take risks and make mistakes too.

4. Ask questions

Get interested in others. Ask questions. Probe. Inquiring about others beyond the ever perfunctory “how are you” elicits a sense from others that you want to hear from them. Be genuine in your questions. Ask for their thoughts, opinions, and don’t forget to listen.

  1. Pay attention

Simply being more aware of your environment and those in it can help you be more able to be proactive about supporting others. Pay attention to how people are acting, reacting, and interacting. Has someone usually pretty jolly started to act a little more reticent and snippy? Have two usually chummy colleagues seem to be avoiding each other? Be present in your environment so that you can check in with folks to see what support they may need.