Psychological Safety is a Must if You Want Your Organization to Succeed

Have you ever been in a meeting and your boss asks you a question about your ideas on a particular subject? After you share your thoughts, your boss has that look of disgust on their face and says, “we can’t do that because this is the way we have always done this,” or “we tried that in the past, and it didn’t work,” or everyone starts laughing and someone says, “their he/she goes again while rolling their eyes.” Negativity and dismissiveness hurt! When your boss responds this way, creativity stops and suppresses the rest of the group’s creative thoughts and ideas. No one wants to be humiliated like this in front of others. 

Then it gets even better – you are in a meeting with the accounting and finance team, and they are reviewing your financial results for the last quarter.  You are afraid to ask questions or make any comments because you don’t want to look stupid.  After all, you don’t have an accounting or finance degree, so what do you know?

What is the real issue in both of these scenarios? The corporate culture does not allow you to speak your mind and ask questions without feeling insecure or embarrassed. In my 30+ years in the corporate world, I had experienced too many times when I was ridiculed because I said something that was perceived as stupid, or I should have known the answer. Is this behavior motivating, inspiring, or productive? Of course not, and yet, we’ve all experienced it at one time or another. 

The good news is, you can create a culture where all ideas have validity, where ideas are accepted and discussed; and, where questions are asked without any judgment or the fear of embarrassment. Okay, quit shaking your head and thinking that will never happen, and saying, “there he goes again with his crazy ideas and comments.” As you continue to listen to this episode, do this – keep an open mind, and don’t pass judgment until you hear me out. Deal? DEAL! 

There is one critical element in creating this new corporate culture, and that element is psychological safety. In a Harvard Business Review article titled, “High Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety And Here’s How To Create It,” the article defines psychological safety as “the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake. Studies show that psychological safety allows for moderate risk-taking, speaking your mind, creativity, and sticking your neck out without the fear of having it cut off.” I know someone out there thinks that I am making this up and using HBR as a cover, but I am not. Psychological safety is a real thing. Google the term to learn more.  

In a similar article by re:work titled “The Five Keys to a Successful Google Team,” the article starts off stating that “who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure the work, and view their contributions.” In other words, the way the team collaborates is more important than who is on the team.  In improv, the team is the sum of all of its parts not just the individual contributions.    

The article goes on to state that there are “five key dynamics that set successful teams apart from other teams at Google, and the number one dynamic is psychological safety.” Psychological safety is defined as “can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed.” The remaining four dynamics are… well now – wait a second. I have a better idea.  Google the article and read it to learn about the other four!  

So, the question becomes, how do you increase psychological safety on your team? The HBR article states that “approach conflict as a collaborator, not an adversary when conflicts come up, avoid triggering a fight-or-flight reaction by asking how could we achieve a mutually desirable outcome and be curious to hear the other person’s point of view.” 

I am no ‘brain expert’, but what I do know is that when you are harassed by your boss, or one of your coworkers with an over-developed ego, or one of the “whatever” coworkers, your brain goes into the fight-or-flight mode. In other words, we act first and think later. That has never happened to you, right? Well, when this happens at work, it debilitates our strategic thinking and kills our self-esteem. Are we now a productive member of the team or a disgruntled employee? Once again, you know the answer. 

When I read both of these articles, my mind went straight to improvisation. For those who have been following my work, you are thinking “shocker.” (just a bit of sarcasm). There is a lot to unpack here, so let’s start with “the belief that punishment will not occur when you make a mistake.” In improv, we say, “there are no mistakes, only gifts, and happy accidents.” No one is perfectand even those who don’t suffer from a lack of certainty make mistakes. Leaders and teammates need to respect each other, trust one another, and support each other when taking risks. Remember, there are risks in everything we do. Don’t punish but praise the person for taking the risk. There is another saying in improv, “Bad ideas are bridges to good ideas. No ideas lead to nothing.” If everyone justifies everyone else’s actions, there are no mistakes.

Then there is the fear of being embarrassed and feeling insecure.  Once you put your ego out of the way, we stop judging others’ ideas – instead, we consider them brilliant and eagerly follow them! You see that great improvisers accept the ideas of the other teammates without judging them to be “good” or “bad,” always thinking, “This is now our idea.” When we do this unilaterally throughout our team and give people the freedom to speak their mind, magic will happen almost immediately. 

One of my all-time favorite improv quotes describes psychological safety by saying, “There are gems in every idea. Embrace and build. Treat every idea as though it has the potential to change the world, and at some point, one will.”

Creating a safe place for the team to share their ideas under the umbrella of psychological safety may be easier to achieve versus asking a question during a financial meeting when you don’t have the financial foundation necessary to articulate a question. To avoid being perceived as stupid, we are more inclined to nod our heads up and down and agree than ask a question.  

However, when you ask the financial question, you will more than likely receive an answer full of accounting and finance jargon, leaving you even more confused. So, what is the solution? Knowledge is the solution. Accounting and finance knowledge, to be exact.  I addressed this in S4E8; I discuss what is financial leadership. The answer is taking an accounting and finance fundamentals course powered by Color Accounting. 

In S4E8, I describe the Color Accounting process, the benefits, and provided three perinate examples.  I would highly suggest that you listen to that entire episode to learn more.  In the meantime, I have another case study to share with you, and it is entitled “We Could Save About $80K a Year.”

In early 2000’s, Mark Robilliard was facilitating a corporate workshop for team leaders and middle managers in a large multinational HQ in Sydney Australia. After becoming accounting literate using the Color Accounting System™, the final session in this particular workshop involved the participants having a quick review of their own work area and then discuss any thoughts on generating additional revenue or incurring less expenses. One of the participants (the Team Leader in the internal mail room) shyly raised their hand and nervously said “I think we could save about $80k per year if we changed how we do this process.” The CFO who just happened to be in the room almost fell off his chair and when he recovered his composure, he asked the team leader “How come you never brought this to us before?”. The answer was simple: “I just do my job – I didn’t know we should be thinking about the business too.”

What value would these type of business conversations have in any organization? Shouldn’t everyone be accounting literate and develop a ‘business owner’ type mindset?

Everyone in your organization should increase their accounting literacy because how much money would your organization save if they did their job AND thought about the business too. Novel idea, right? 

How effective are your senior managers, managers, sales team, and back-office teams around finance? Do they perform with psychological safety in your accounting and finance meetings? Do they speak their mind and ask questions without feeling insecure or embarrassed?

In conclusion, the HBR article states, “if you create a sense of psychological safety on your team starting now, you can expect to see higher engagement levels, increased motivation to tackle difficult problems, more learning and development opportunities, and better performance.” So, what are you waiting for? 

If you would like to learn more about how improvisation leadership creates a culture that fully supports psychological safety within the organization and/or more about the Color Accounting process, please contact me at peter@petermargaritis.com

Effective Negotiating in Corporate America

What do you feel when you hear the word, negotiate? Dread, Anxiety, Excitement? Do you believe that negotiation skills can be taught? Do you agree with this statement – “we negotiate all the time”? Have you ever searched Google asking one or more of these questions: 

  • What skill is the most helpful during a negotiation? 
  • How does ego play a role in negotiating? 
  • What role does leverage play during negotiations?  

I will address all of these questions, and how the world of IMPROV can help make you a much better negotiator, and more, in this episode.  Yes!  And this same topic will be continued in at least two, if not three, more upcoming podcast episodes.  Stay tuned!

Let’s get started! Most of us have experienced a negotiation gone bad.  However, have you ever been negotiated up? That’s right negotiated up.  Early in my business, I wanted to work with a specific association because of the painful negotiation their members were experiencing. I knew I had a solution for that pain.  In my conversation with them, they asked what my fee was? I replied, what is your budget for this event?  The person responded with the speaker budget for the entire year and it was $1,000 above my fee for the event.  I wanted the job, so I offered a fee that was 75% less than my normal fee.  Then came the awkward pause.  After about what seemed like 30 min but more like 30 sec, the person replied with a fee that was 50% more than I offered.  I got negotiated UP! I learned a valuable lesson that day.  Learn how to negotiate better!  So from that point forward, I offer my full fee, and if rejected, I work with the other person to find common ground where both parties WIN and walk away with value.  

Not every negotiation table has a client on the other end. Sometimes it’s an employee. And when it is, it is often about negotiating to give them a voice their role within the company and in the business’s direction.  These negotiations take success to a whole level. 

So. What makes some negotiations successful and others dead in the water? Conducting a successful negotiation requires the use of six essential skills – and they are ALL foundations of Improvisation.

These six skills will ensure every negotiation has the potential to end with a positive solution.

6 PRINCIPLES OF IMPROVISATION

  1. Take your ego off the table
  2. Have and show respect for the other party
  3. Be in the moment (focus)
  4. Listen to the other party’s needs and wants
  5. Adapt to the situation
  6. Yes, And…

These steps truly help everyone one win in a negotiation. One of biggest impacts the 6 principles have is to  take the emotions off the table. Heated emotions can cause negotiations to shut down. They are more likely to end in a stalemate with wasted efforts. Anthony K. Tjan wrote in a Harvard Business Review blog, “Time and emotion — these are the two things most often wasted during a negotiation.” And he is right. We tend to react emotionally and negatively to any points of negotiation that oppose our own agenda. And that wastes time and energy. When our goals for a negotiation are so firmly anchored that we cannot budge, it becomes hard to see any common goal as a solution. Instead, emotions kick in, and egos inflate—and we cease to listen. All we hear is our own voice in our head trying to find a way back to what we want.

SKILLFUL NEGOTIATION IS ROOTED IN IMPROVISATION

Tom Yorton was once in the corporate ranks before becoming CEO of Second City Communications, the business solutions division of the world- renowned comedy company, The Second City. He had this to say in a recent Business Innovation Factory article, “But my experience – and in fact, my scars – are from bumping up against the same organizational hurdles that improv is so effective at helping companies get over – challenges that include connecting with customers, engaging employees around change, moving into new

markets, innovating new products and services, working without a script.”

All of the aspects of driving positive change inside the company depend on how well leaders in corporate America can negotiate. That equates to how well business professionals can handle ‘blocking’. ‘Blocking’ are those things that are brought to the table that are unexpected – out of the blue – out of nowhere Blocking like this It halts forward momentum and does not neatly fit inside the box of your agenda.  And it happens every day.

Daena Giardella teaches an improvisational leadership class at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. She spends an entire lesson on teaching how to avoid using the most common block, the “yes, but.” In an NPR article, she points out, “Even though you say, ‘Yes,’ the but says, Yeah, but that’s not really valid because here is the better point.“

Negotiations can quickly come to a grinding halt when “yes, but” comes to the table. It is when emotions get heated and time gets wasted.  Michael Wheeler, Harvard Business School Professor and Program on Negotiation (PON) faculty member wrote the book The Art of Negotiation: How to Improvise Agreement in a Chaotic World. Michael states in a PON Q&A interview that, “real-world interactions between parties by looking at the uncertainty of negotiations and how to develop flexible strategy when you have incomplete information. Negotiation cannot be scripted. Your goals may change during the course of negotiation, a little or a lot. Unexpected opportunities and obstacles may pop up. Your across-the-table counterpart may be more or less cooperative than you expected.” 

Too many times we practice a rigid strategy – a script – a plan – prior to going into a negotiation.  By doing so, we quit listening to the other party because we are following the linear thought process we created and practiced.  We miss out on key opportunities or threats by not being fully present. Michael states in this Q&A, “There’s a misperception that military strategy is very rigid. Yes, there’s a chain of command, but there’s also a military saying: “Plans go out the window with first contact with the enemy.” In an uncertain situation, you have to think through your best- and worst-case scenarios.” This military strategy can be witnessed back in 2011 when the U.S. Navy SEALs executed the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan.  “The mission had been meticulously planned; the SEALs trained for it over months and several contingency plans were developed and put into place. When one of the navy’s Black hawk helicopters crashed within the compound, a very specific kind of improvisation was required if the mission was to succeed.” This is adapting to the change in the strategy in order to achieve a positive outcome. 

Improvising is not winging it or making things up.  Improvising is all about over-preparing and developing alternative plans and when you enter the room, you throw the script away, you listen and stay present in the negotiation and adapt in order to achieve success.   

Time to remember the 6 principles of improvisation!

  1. Take your ego off the table
  2. Have and show respect for the other party
  3. Be in the moment (focus)
  4. Listen to the other party’s needs and wants
  5. Adapt to the situation
  6. Yes, And…

Listen to the other party’s needs. What are they really saying when they block your proposal? Be adaptable by taking your ego off the table. Take a deep breath if you need to and then let the next words that come out of your mouth be “Yes, and…”

A successful negotiation is birthed from being able to rebound, to take the blocks and build with them. That is how you connect with other people.

Have you ever watched preschoolers play with blocks? They take turns stacking them on top of each other until it gets so high it just topples over – or they like to watch it fall and knock it over on purpose. But the point is that both of them have an agenda. They each want to pick up a block and put it on the tower and each one probably has an idea about what the tower will look like, but they keep building until they can’t build anymore.

We are more likely to succeed in negotiations when both parties can envision a common goal. Improvisation teaches us to set aside our personal agendas and ego and take whatever the other person gives you and go with it. The glue that ties it all together is the principle of “Yes, and…” Successful people all intuitively do this. They just don’t necessarily realize that they are using improvisation in their daily lives.

To succeed in negotiations, we need to drop our agendas long enough to truly listen—and with respect for all

involved. It is true for formal negotiations around a conference table and is the way to success in the daily negotiations of life and career—during a chat with the boss or with one’s spouse, or with a child. This is the kind of straight talk we can cultivate that truly will make the biggest difference.

If you would like to learn more about negotiating using improv techniques, please contact me at peter@petermargaritis.com

At Last, The Secret to Active and Authentic Listening

Have you ever had a conversation with someone – and you know the entire time that they are not listening to you? You can feel it in their energy, you can hear it in their tone, and you can see it in their body language.  They’re leaning back, with the “deer in the headlights” look; and if you look down at their feet, they are pointed to either the left or right because they want out of the conversation. Or, perhaps they are not listening to you because they have an agenda to push and they are just waiting for their turn to talk? 

If it’s about their agenda, then their body language is the exact opposite from before – leaning forward, rolling their eyes, and trying to make themselves taller with their feet pointed at you. They have something important to say, and they are either waiting for you to stop talking or better yet, they rudely interrupt you. Any of this sound familiar?  We’ve all been on the giving and/or receiving end of poor listening – how does it make you feel – and how are you making others feel? 

I used to be a terrible listener.  My over-inflated ego was driving the scene and I wanted my ideas to be accepted by all. Arrogant I was (think ‘Yoda voice’). 

Then, I was introduced to, and stepped into, the world of improv. One of the very first lessons I learned, was that to be successful in the art of improv, you need to “listen to understand,” aka, active listening. Listening to understand means you park your ideas, your biases, and eliminate all distractions. You suspend your judgment (set your ego aside), so you can focus on listening to what the other person is trying to communicate while managing your emotions. It is authentic.

Easy enough, right? WRONG!

Listening to understand is a skill that needs ongoing practice and strengthening. Over the last 20 years, I have become a better listener, with plenty of setbacks. In my book, Improv Is No Joke: Using Improvisation to Create Positive Results in Leadership and Life, I share this story.

Let’s say a CPA has a client across the table who is pouring out her angst about what’s keeping her up at night. The client is making it clear what she needs and wants, but the CPA is thinking of the services that they came in to sell and is waiting for their opening.

“Well,” the CPA tells the long-faced client, “we have this new product here that we’ve developed…”

The client wonders whether the CPA was listening to her – and he wasn’t. He was waiting to deliver a sales pitch. Far better if he could have put those products and services to the side and truly heard his client’s wants and needs and asked questions to learn more about them. A real conversation results in a meeting of minds. That’s the way to a genuine sale—one that’s a real fit.

We all can strengthen our listening skills if we work on them every single day. And when we do this consistently over time, you might just hear a client, customer, or co-worker say, “

“I am not sure why I told you that?” Or, “do you mind if I rant about a situation that happened to me without judging, only listening”? (Google – “It’s Not About the Nail”.  This is a perfect video to understand my last sentence.)

The other critical part of listening is empathy.  Empathy is being fully present and listening deeply to understand what they are saying from their point of view. In the Forbes.com article, Empathy Is an Essential Leadership Skill — And There’s Nothing Soft About It by Prudy Gourguechon, she states, “Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s experience, perspective, and feelings. Also called “vicarious introspection,” it’s commonly described as the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes. But make sure you are assessing how they would feel in their shoes, not how you would feel in their shoes.”

Learning how another person feels in their shoes is critical and challenging to becoming a better listener.  We need to ask many questions – many good questions – to understand the other person’s situation and feelings. We all come from different backgrounds, ethnicity, and race. As a friend of mine, Dino Tripodis, once said, “we are the sum of our experiences.” Take the time to understand the other person’s journey, listen and learn, and think about how you may need to change your mindset based on the information you are receiving. 

If you would like to discuss ways that you can improve yours and your co-workers listening skills, please contact me at peter@petermargaritis.com and in the subject line put – At Last, The Secret to Active and Authentic Listening 

THANK YOU to all the heroes!

The coronavirus will be part of our lives until a vaccine is developed and administered. As of May 14, 2020, there are 4,387,438 confirmed cases with 298,392 (7%) deaths, globally. In the U.S., there are 1,395,265 confirmed cases with 84,313 (6%) deaths. These facts are from the COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

When you take a step back from these numbers, they are entirely staggering since the first known case was discovered on November 17, 2019, according to the South Morning China Post. The virus came ashore in the U.S. in February 2020, just three months ago. 

There are hundreds, if not thousands of heroes in this battle, and we owe each and every one of them a big THANK YOU for putting their lives on the front lines to protect every one of us. Here’s to the doctors, nurses, healthcare professionals and scientists working on the vaccine and therapy’s; truck drivers, grocery store personnel, those who work in distribution centers, those who are making masks and giving them away, food delivery people, funeral directors, police, firefighters, governors, state officials, directors of state health departments; those essential profit and non-profit businesses; those who have recovered from the virus and have donated their plasma;  all of these are just some off the top of my head who deserve our gratitude.  And there are many, many more. 

The coronavirus has touched us all in some manner. You may know someone who had the virus and recovered, or you may know someone who has died from the virus, or you know one of the heroes of the virus. I know:

  • A personal friend contracted the virus early in March when the key questions were – have you traveled to China or one of the other infected countries? OR, have you come in contact with anyone who has tested positive? He was not tested, but his doctor told him to self-quarantine. It took three long weeks to recover and has no idea how or where he contacted the virus. During the three weeks of his battle, I would text him about every other day to see how he was feeling and check on his progress. Now that he has recovered, he is going to donate his plasma to help others.  
  • I have a friend who is a nurse in Lexington, KY, and she volunteered to go to New York City during the peak of the outbreak and help out in any way possible. I sent my friend a thank you note for her service.
  • I have a friend and his fiancée who are doctors and are working in the COVID-19 wings within their hospitals in Boston. We have sent them thank you cards for their service and will send them Cheryl Cookies once Cheryl’s and begin delivery.  
  • When I visit a grocery store, I try to thank all of those people who working to keep the shelves stocked and the store sanitized for the betterment of their customers.  

Take a moment and think of those heroes that you know.  Have you thanked them for their courage and service during this crisis? If not, then take a moment and thank them. I am sure they will be very appreciative. Stay healthy, be safe, and practice social distancing.

Step Away from the Script

The unlikely blending of Accounting and Improvisation is something I have in common with my two guests, Kristen Rampe and Jason Lieu, from Slide Deck Improv. Both Kristen and Jason started their careers in the Accounting field but later discovered Improv as a creative outlet. This prompted Kristen to create Slide Deck Improv, which features improv-based workshops as a way to put the fun back into the way professionals communicate in their workplace.  

Slide Deck Improv marries both worlds by working on presentation and communication skills with an improv angle. Besides being in a classroom learning environment, the audience also plays improv games, which is a great way to teach people to think on their feet. The experience not only taps into the creative process, but it also gives you more faith in your abilities and boosts confidence. Participants learn to enhance their speaking and storytelling skills so that they can connect with others in more impactful ways. It teaches people how to observe and try new skills while having much fun in the process. 

Kristen designed the program, so there is “a little bit of learning, a little bit of practice, and just a whole lot of fun.” Also, the course helps participants build confidence by assisting them to get “comfortable in the uncomfortable.”  

Professional development workshops are notoriously dull, but this one is not. According to Slide Deck Improv, they offer “a fresh and fun classroom experience to help professionals tap into their creativity and gain confidence presenting to groups.”  

Besides teaching improv skills, volunteers in the workshop present before the group. They present five slides (one picture per slide) that they have never seen before and a topic that will be selected by the audience. Just imagine a seasoned tax professional speaking on the subject of Botany. At the same time, a picture of cows pops up on the screen. While laughter ripples through the room, the group learns how to make public speaking a little less scary.  

All professional groups from sales to engineers will benefit from learning how to engage people with the newfound confidence that Slide Deck Improv provides. Whether it is interacting with your sales team, customers, or management, these skills can be utilized in your profession, but also transfer over into your daily life.  

Many professionals are highly analytical and spend a lot of time in their heads. Jason described his experience with Improv as, “In any given moment, I’m in my head trying to digest information. And I like to go back and analyze everything before I come up with an answer. Improv gave me this tool that allowed me to live in the moment, listen to people, and to engage in real-time, and I love the feeling and energy of it.”  

Jason expands on the benefits of the program. “I love Improv because it’s such a general skill. It’s not just a business communication skill. It’s a life skill. You can bring this into all your facets of everyday life. And it’s all about connecting with your audience no matter who the audience is. It could be your customers, clients, sales team, internal, external, whatever. It comes down to people talking to people. And if you can connect and engage people, you’re going to have this newfound confidence in your work.”

Everyone can benefit from this kind of workshop, whether you are a CEO or a young professional. Improving your communication skills while in a less traditional forum sparks more productive business relationships. 

You can join in on the fun, while Kristen and Jason show off their improv skills during season 2, episode 13 of Change Your Mindset podcast by clicking here. You’ll get a taste of how the programs work while gaining valuable insight into the process. Thank you, Kristen and Jason, for taking the time to share your innovative program.

Visit SlideDeckImprov.com to find out more about how you can ‘Step Away from the Script.’