We have been there before, you and I. We have stood in that place of uncertainty. That place where we feel uncertain and therefore unsafe.
The uncertainty can be created in many ways - attempting to learn or master a new skill, meeting someone for the first time, public speaking, a follow up call or a sales meeting, being in a new place or team, expectations not being met...
We all react differently to these situations. Our past experience, knowledge and how we perceive risk, drive our response. But for most of us uncertainty leads to feeling unsafe.
It's called psychological safety because the actual risk and danger may be non existent.
Regardless of the actual risk we perceive risk and danger and interpret it as real.
Part of my work as a survival instructor was designing scenarios with a high level of uncertainty built in. I'd deliberately push people into feeling unsafe and uncertain - after all, they have came to learn how they react and respond, how to master their emotional turmoil and create a sense of control within the uncertainty they face.
Their reactions, just like yours and mine are interesting and often surprising.
In a business setting, staff and customers may feel unsafe for many reasons. The results are distraction, loss of trade, down time, confusion, defensiveness and/or aggression, people making their own rules, lack of vision and direction, poorly made decisions etc...
There are many actions you can take to create a sense of psychological safety for anyone in any situation.
These are my top three. Why not try them with your team and customers.
- Be clear about your vision. How do you see this situation or interaction working out? Visualise the outcome. Get as specific and detailed as you can.
- Clarify expectations. What is it that you and they expect? Be diligent in understanding their perspective and be prepared to meet or exceed expectations whenever you can. If that's not possible, be prepared to clarify further and negotiate some agreed expectations.
- Communicate often. Keep people in the loop. One of the biggest complaints within teams and from customers is that they just don't know what's going on. People have different preferences and expectations about how you should keep them informed. Be a student of this and meet or exceed their expectations. This is especially important in times of change or uncertainty.
These key actions go a long way towards achieving the trust, boundaries, and sense of control mentioned in the opening quote.