I fix broken things: bad communication, disengaged employees, unproductive teams, and leaders that no one trusts.

Is my effort futile? Does psychological safety really exist?

Yes. Yes, it does. Let’s celebrate one such workplace.

My previous coworker (and friend) Becky was assigned a massive project.  The type of project that determined if the organization she worked for kept a certification that is issued by their industry’s governing body.

When she was tasked with the project, her boss, Paul, set expectations and then essentially told her to run with it.  Why? He was confident in Becky’s experience, background, and skills. She was an expert in managing people, organized, and good with both tasks and people, and he knew it. In short, Paul trusted Becky.

Soon she found herself leading many of her peers. Then BOOM! Things kind of exploded. One of her peers on the team was flat out difficult. The tough part was that his behavior wasn’t a big obvious outburst of negativity; instead, it was a slow and stealthy effort to sabotage her work.

What was Becky to do? After all, she was a “management expert”.

Becky knew that although she was an expert, she needed help. So, she asked Paul for it.

Without ridicule or criticism, he coached her on how to get that difficult peer on board: take a what if? approach.  What if (followed by a positive outcome)?  Here are some examples:

  • What if we try that and it works?
  • What if we ask for an extension and they say yes?
  • What if we move the date and more people participate?
  • What if at the end of this we have set a new and better standard for our organization?
  • What if we learn something useful about ourselves during this experience?

TWO beautiful things happened in this situation.

One. Situational humility on Becky’s part.

Realizing that you don’t have all the answers and then admitting it is a key to cultivating psychological safety. If you think you have all of the answers just because you an “expert” or you are the “leader”, check your ego at the door. Your ego isn’t serving you or your team well.

Two. Safe space on Paul’s part.

Fear is debilitating and dangerous, and when you create fear your employees stop talking to you.  If they stop talking to you, you can’t coach them before it’s too late. Creating space where employees feel comfortable enough to ask for help is another key to cultivating psychological safety. If you motivate through fear, you’re unfortunately not getting the best your employees have to give.

You see. Psychological safety really does exist!

P.S. That peer who tried to sabotage Becky’s work … he later apologized and committed to being better. Yay!


Want some of what Becky has? I can help – just reach out!