Psychological Safety – Why We Need it Now More Than Ever

Psychological Safety – Why We Need it Now More Than Ever

BlueEQ™ Staff

As I travel the country listening to clients and their organizational struggles to compete in today’s hyper-competitive environment, two things become clear. First, when an organization has clearly communicated directives, employees feel valued as a whole and a general climate of trust exists. This organization is able to perform, innovate and absorb change as needed. Alternatively, if priorities are not made clear and communication is inadequate, employees feel the need to fend for themselves and rarely optimize their contributions to the organization.

In 2017 the number of mergers and acquisitions in the U.S. was at an all-time high. While this may be positive in terms of synergies or economies of scale it often takes a toll on employees. At a seminar in Baltimore Nov. 2018, the number one concern of managers was how to create a consistent, positive, corporate culture in light of multiple mergers. Employees divulged they were constantly faced with uncertainty about their future, clashes of culture and values, and withstood multiple changes in process, sometimes even contradictory. This results in a negative impact in employee engagement, productivity and innovation.

Although this environment of rapid change can create uncertainties and friction, a leader with strong emotional intelligence will be able to create an environment of psychological safety in which the change can be absorbed, and teams can continue to thrive. Psychological safety is a shared belief that it’s safe to discuss ideas, experiment, take risks, give feedback, and learn from mistakes. In the shifting sands of culture clashes and multiple process changes a safe environment is essential for employees and teams to assimilate the changes, create a new combined culture and continue to be engaged and productive.

Two emotional intelligence skills particularly relevant in this scenario are Observation and Relationship Management. First, Observation: It is essential for a leader to understand the interpersonal dynamics during this time of change. Watch the social interactions and be particularly aware of underlying messages sent through body language, micro-expressions and tone. Providing increased opportunities for feedback and listening can go a long way in helping a leader understand the underlying dynamics in the group. The greater the observation skills, the better chance the leader will have of influencing the team and ensuring that personal and team objectives are in line with the new corporate vision.

Second, relationship management….it is a common adage in business that people don’t quit their jobs they quit their managers or their co-workers. During a time of change, the establishment or strengthening of meaningful relationships give a human dimension to what sometimes feels like a machine. The increased emotional bond and interdependence with others will help employees feel they are in a safe zone where they can continue to contribute their best effort. With strong relationships in place, change, which will inevitably happen, can be a positive and growth opportunity for all involved.

Although merger and acquisition rates will continue to wax and wane over the years the friction of change will be an ever-present part of today’s corporate world. Whether that change becomes debilitating and costly to an organization, or a source of inspiration and innovation will largely be a result of high emotional intelligence skills and the zone of psychological safety a leader is able to maintain.


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