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 responds with negativity and dismissal. When your boss responds this way, creativity stops and it suppresses the rest of the group’s creative thoughts and ideas. No one wants to be humiliated like this in front of others.
The traditional corporate culture does not allow you to speak your mind and ask questions without feeling insecure or embarrassed, but good news is that 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.
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. Here’s How To Create It,” the author 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.”
How do you increase psychological safety on your team? The HBR article states that you must “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.”
In improv, we say, “there are no mistakes, only gifts and happy accidents.” No one is perfect, and 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 minds, 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.