Psychological safety is an important aspect of effectively handling difficult conversations. It is important in saying no, giving feedback, providing criticism, and delivering bad news.
If the recipient of this difficult message does not feel safe, they may reject the message, feel like they are being bullied or have been treated unfairly. If they don’t feel psychologically safe during the conversation, they may not respond with honesty or may not participate in the conversation at all.
Given the importance of psychological safety, what are some simple strategies that leaders can demonstrate, so staff know they are safe? Great leaders encourage dissension (disagreement), discussion and divergent (alternative) views.
Dissension is a disagreement or difference in opinion. Encouraging dissension in the workplace means allowing every team member to disagree with a rule, an opinion, or a policy. Having the ability to dissent allows employees to feel safe in that they can question the decision, raise their opinions, and contest a rule.
Discussion is important in every type of conversation. In fact, most of the time, a conversation is not a conversation if there’s no discussion. Team leaders and managers need to let their colleagues know that they are in a discussion and their responses are required.
Avoid going into a conversation where the other person just listens. Always encourage the other person to respond and voice out what they feel about what you are discussing. Make them feel that they are part of the conversation and not a student who is there to listen to a lecture.
Having divergent views in the workplace is not uncommon. However, not every employee voices out their divergent views due to a lot of reasons including the fear of being judged or fear of being seen as a difficult employee. Make an employee feel psychologically safe by listening and considering their divergent views.
The power of acceptance
Dissension, discussion, and divergence may not be some of the first things a leader encourages in every business meeting. But these help build a psychologically safe workplace.
Leaders and members of a team need to accept that it is healthy to challenge and think divergently in a meeting or a casual work conversation. This is how you develop psychological safety. This is how you build stronger, more creative, and more innovative teams.
So, as a leader, do you encourage your staff at meetings, pre-starts, regular updates, and other staff forums to disagree with you, discuss further, or offer a divergent view.?
If you do, your staff will have the courage to speak up, share their ideas, and you will be seen as a leader who provides psychological safety.
If you would like to know more about psychological safety and difficult conversations, I can run an in-house workshop for you around Difficult Conversations.