Psychological Safety: A Win-Win for Wellness and Performance

Psychological safety—the shared belief that it’s safe to take interpersonal risks as a group—fosters healthy team dynamics and interpersonal relationships. This can have a positive effect on high-quality decision making, innovation, and ultimately lead to highly-functioning leaders and teams. 

A voluntary, participatory team sport, psychological safety is a two-way decision: 

  1. A personal decision about whether to “risk it” or not is made based on one’s own personal history/experience. 
  2. How people are behaving on a team will either promote or obstruct a sense of psychological safety on a team. 

If someone on your team thinks it’s not safe to speak up, they will not feel safe in the group, regardless of what the group is doing. This can lead to missteps or mistakes that may not have occurred if they did feel safe to speak up in the first place!

Like baking, psychological safety requires a specific recipe for it to rise:

  1. Know: because we feel more comfortable with people we know.
  2. Respect: the key to recognizing and appreciating another’s contributions.
  3. Value: being willing to seek to understand other points-of views.
  4. Risk: the willingness to be open to others when you don’t know or understand yet.
  5. Trust: what follows risking when a person consistently behaves with a respectful response to you.

Now, take a moment to consider the following: 

  1. What’s one behavior that positively impacts your sense of psychological safety?
  2. What’s one behavior that negatively impacts your sense of psychological safety?

So, how can you build psychological safety on your team? Let’s start with you!

Self-awareness is the ability to recognize what you are feeling, understanding your emotional responses to events, and recognizing how your emotions affect your behaviors. 

  1. Try building self-awareness on your team by first recognizing, and then sharing, how you best like to work or communicate, and even how you like to be recognized. Encourage your team members to do the same.
  2. Being able to manage your behaviors is essential to taking responsibility for your actions, and it can save you from hasty decisions that you later regret. We call this self-management, where the goal is to respond to people so that both parties “win”.

    How you respond to people is a choice. Try to avoid knee jerk reactions, even by taking a pause or walking away. Delaying your reactions can increase the probability of a productive conversation where you actively listen and the other party feels heard—a win-win!

You’re not going to increase your psychological safety overnight, and self-awareness and self-management can be tough nuts to crack. But, being aware of them and knowing they are an important part of workplace wellness is a great start! 

Building Remote Culture

Hi Dr. Jim,
What are some more ways to build culture when working remotely besides team meetings?
-Sandy*

 

Hi Sandy.
My definition of culture is the series of behaviors that are going on within a team or within a company. Now, we have the definition of a culture, but then we have the reality in terms of the actual behaviors.

One of the things I would do is ask people to send each other, maybe to a central place everyone can access: In one sentence please describe our culture. Another thing is to ask people every once in a while, during an online meeting or in a chat, to shoot out to the rest of the team members a win they’ve had in the last week. Or what’s a challenge they are having that they would like help with.

It’s the interactions of people sharing and connecting with each other that’s really important.
– Dr. Jim

 

*names have been changed

Zoom Zombie?

Dear Dr. Jim,
We’ve all heard of Zoom fatigue, but what else should I be aware of or watch out for?
– Marie-Hélène

 

Hi Marie-Hélène,
During this time of Zoom meetings that seem to be back to back, by the end of the day you’re like a marathon runner who’s run out of gas – you’re struggling and trying to keep your thoughts together.

So that’s one thing: too many meetings too close together. Another thing is going to meetings you shouldn’t be in. You should also be aware of taking time off during the day. Go for a walk. Even 15 minutes can make a big difference.

Now, I want to explain something that goes on when you start getting Zoom fatigue, and this research is from Dr. Travis Bradberry (see diagram in video):

  • Boredom/Depression: When we’re down here, we’re kind of bored, depressed, and wondering “What am I doing?” We hear this from little kids: “I’m bored, Mom,” because there’s not much going on and there’s a low stress level.
  • Increased Attention/Interest: What happens as you start performing more and there’s a little bit more stress, you have increased attention and interest, and that’s why it’s really important to be doing things that are of interest to you because you can handle a fair bit of stress (which is part of life) and do well in terms of what you need to do at a certain level.
  • Optimal Performance: Then you get up to this optimal performance level, and that’s where we’re at our best. It depends on:
    • Skills
    • Motivation
    • Surroundings
    • Organizational impact (e.g., too many demands, not enough demands, unclear demands, etc.)
  • Strong Anxiety: What begins to happen when our stress levels get higher, but the demands are still there, people start feeling strong anxiety and then performance starts going down.
  • Complete Meltdown: After which you can get to an awful place of complete meltdown, where you just can’t function anymore.

One of the cues to look out for when you’re working is whether you can still have clear thoughts and move through your priorities that you have set. If you find yourself staring at the screen, unable to maintain concentration, you’re getting into anxiety area, and that, on a long term basis is very self-destructive to your health.

Take care of yourself.  Thank you.
– Dr. Jim

*names have been changed

Spice It Up!

Dear Dr. Jim,
Working from home can get monotonous. How can I spice it up for the New Year?
– Sam*

 

Hi Sam,
I’ve been working remotely for about 20 years, and it’s certainly different now than it was a year ago before COVID hit. So, there’s that to consider.

First of all, find your comfort level. Set up your area so it’s as comfortable as you can make it for yourself.

The next thing is focus on priority setting, not time management. Every day or week, whichever is your preference, decide what the first item on your list is that you want to get done, what’s the second, the third, and try to work through those items throughout the day or week.

Something else that I do every day, all day, is I make sure to take breaks at least every 30 or 40 minutes. I go somewhere, I get away from my computer, I do something else. I may call or Zoom with a friend or colleague to have some interactions with people, to just have a chat.

Make sure that you feed yourself well. Stay away from the junk food, it’s not a good thing — you start to feel crappy after a while. Also, every day I try to do some kind of exercise. I get out of the office, go outside, walk around safely (i.e., social distancing), to bring in some variety.

Another thing is to make sure that you set up times when you’re going to work. And, whenever you stop, make sure you turn off your computer, the displays, the whole thing to help disciplining yourself to stay away from the computer. Because what we’re finding with people who are working remotely is that once you start getting bored you go back to your computer and start doing more work.

Finally, make sure you get enough sleep. It’s really important in terms of making sure you keep your energy up.

These are some of the things I do on a regular basis and it seems to be working.

Hopefully this is helpful!
– Dr. Jim

*names have been changed

The Bigger Picture

Dear Dr. Jim,
I’m feeling disconnected from the bigger picture of the organization, I imagine many others are as well. How can I better connect with my team and my work? What is it all for!?!
– Jeff*

Hi Jeff,
Great question! It’s always good to have clarity in terms of what we are doing, why we are doing it, and how that contributes to the success of the organization. The first thing you could do is ask your manager one-on-one, or you suggest a team meeting to discuss how what we are doing—and why we are doing it—fits into the larger picture of the organization.

Explain that a better understanding and clearer picture will help you stay motivated and productive! Hopefully they will be willing to do that and you can get together virtually have a conversation that will get everybody clear and in the same boat, all moving in the same direction.
– Dr. Jim

 

Energy Booster

Dr. Jim,
Before covid we really thrived on each others energy and working closely together. With us now working remotely, I need to figure out how to get that energy back. What can I do?
-Beth*

 

Hi Beth,
We see this all the time when there is a major shift of some kind. This is a major shift for many people when they go from working in the office to working remotely. You’ll notice behavior changes, some people may have been really good at what they were doing before, but are maybe not so good now. Check in with them and ask how it’s going.

I also recommend that at least three times a week at an appointed time get together online and do a check in. Everybody goes around first and says what they are working on. You do another round of what are your stuck points or what am I frustrated about. Do a final round where everybody says a win they have had recently. So people are talking together and you are maintaining connection.

Another thing, it’s a bit radical, but you could for 1 hour maybe in the morning and one in the afternoon, everyone come up on screen and work together at the same time. You can see everyone moving around and doing their thing, you can have a little chat, just like in your office. There’s not much difference in many respects, except it’s virtual and some people may need time to get used to that. Again, it increases the connection and it can really help people in terms of stress and anxiety just to know people are there with them, even if it’s electronically.

Give it a shot, watch for changes in behavior and respond to help them get better, and encourage people who are doing well.
-Dr. Jim

*names have been changed

Feeling Fatigued

Dear Dr. Jim,
What is Zoom fatigue, because I think I may have it. What can I do about it?
-Barb*

 

Hi Barb,

So called Zoom fatigue, from my perspective, is a result of all the things that already weren’t working well in face-to-face meetings. When we moved in-person meetings to Zoom or Microsoft Team, what happened is people didn’t adjust to the new format. Some people were against being on camera (which I think is a huge mistake) and it revealed that many meetings were not very well run to begin with. Here are some tips:

1. In online meetings it’s important to connect with each other. Start off everybody with something like “What’s going on with you?” or “How are you coming to this meeting?”

2. It is absolutely crucial that an agenda be made and sent out to everybody 24 hours before. Ensure that you move through the agenda and that everybody helps to move it along.

3. Some people like to talk a lot and some people don’t ever speak up. It’s everyone’s responsibility to curtail that. The organizer can and should call on people in order to keep a balanced forum.

4. Do a check in every once in a while by asking what’s going well and what needs improvement to help keep your team focused and on target.

There’s a lot more to it, like the whole technical part of running a meeting so that people aren’t distracted by bad camera angles or lighting. Fixing those elements will help, too. It is a difficult thing to get used to, you might even want to take some training on how to run online meetings well. -Dr. Jim

-Dr. Jim

*names have been changed