Updated: Sep 21
Are you back in the office? Do you work from home? Are you part of the hybrid generation? Where we work, when we work, and how we work continues to evolve, creating an atmosphere of uncertainty. Scheduling meetings brings a whole new set of logistics and requirements. With every new set of regulations and recommendations, we feel the impact – at home and work.
When the only constant is change, how do leaders create an atmosphere and a framework that helps people move from surviving to thriving? What do individuals and teams need now to be effective and productive?
One of the words we have heard a lot lately is empathy. The dictionary tells us that empathy is the ability to identify with or understand the perspective, experiences, or vulnerability of another. In these times that foment confusion, instability, and high levels of emotion, the importance of empathy in relationships is pretty easy to grasp. Still, it isn't always so easy to achieve. When you need to get things done, and some of your team is in the office, and others are on a screen from home, can you also cultivate empathy for their experience?
Perhaps a first step is understanding the vulnerability that everyone is feeling right now. Just re-read the first paragraph of this post to get a sense of what is triggering the vulnerability. Then add the personal circumstances of your colleagues and teammates - working remotely while juggling school mandates, sharing shaky Wi-Fi connections with a spouse who is also working from home, caring for an aging family member, and trying to negotiate best practices about the virus - all while trying to be effective at their job.
When we already feel vulnerable, telling others that we need help with a task, that we disagree with a direction, or that we’ve made a mistake can feel like a huge personal risk.
When we already feel vulnerable, telling others that we need help with a task, that we disagree with a direction, or that we’ve made a mistake can feel like a huge personal risk. More than ever, and especially in the digital workplace, a leader’s job is to create a culture where people can do just that. Amy Edmonson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School, defines the conditions that encourage personal risk-taking as psychological safety. She says, “Psychological safety exists when people feel their workplace is an environment where they can speak up, offer ideas, and ask questions without fear of being punished or embarrassed.”
Leaders must model the behaviors and mindsets they want to nurture in others. Here are some questions to consider as you think about creating psychological safety in your organization.
How do you react when a team member disagrees with you?
How much room do you have for divergent thinking?
How do you react when someone on your team makes a mistake?
How easy is it for you to ask for help from your team when things in your life are difficult?
Acknowledging vulnerability - yours and others - is the first step to creating the conditions for psychological safety to take root.
Maybe the best way to ride the waves of change is to acknowledge that we are all vulnerable to its effects and, in that vulnerability, our best way to safety is paddling together.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christine Strong is the Chief of Staff and Consultant of The TAI Group.