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How to boost resilience in the workplace.

Updated: Jan 20, 2021

Boosting Resilience with Psychological Safety

Resilience is top of the agenda in many organisations, as we all face change on a scale we have never experienced before. To help boost resilience in your organisation, it is vital to create an environment in which team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other. This is known as psychological safety, which is the shared belief that it’s safe to take interpersonal risks as a group. These risks include speaking up when there’s a problem with the team dynamics, and sharing creative ideas, among others.

I would like share with you my learnings from working in organisations that were and were not psychologically safe, along with my recent interactions with leaders who are trying to create resilient cultures.

5 key ways to build a psychologically safe workplace are:

1. Building trust on every level of relationships

2. Creating a safe place to fail

3. Actively listening and respecting each other

4. Encouraging social interactions

5. Leading by example

1. Building trust on every level of relationships

Trust is the bedrock of society, or should be. Trust can be translated as confidence in someone or something. It is so important in our relationships, whether personal or business. But trust pervades more than relationships, it is fundamental to everyday life. Stephen Covey said, ‘trust is the glue of life’.

The ‘Trust Equation’, which Charles H. Green explains in detail in his two books, “The Trusted Advisor” and “Trust Based Selling” has a powerful and insightful approach that can help you create more trust with others, and understand why you trust/mistrust others yourself.

Trust is possibly too complex an issue to simply be put into an equation, but this does give you a helpful steer when trying to build relationships within your organisation. The key thing to note is that we all have our own trust criteria with which we judge instinctively - the equation may just help quantify that.

Obviously we judge very quickly in most situations, but generally our nervousness towards someone is our sub-conscious not having all the right information for our own trust criteria to be aligned. We judge trust according to our own reality and experience – others can inspire you to have trust in someone, but we still need to align to our own criteria, which can take time.

So endeavour to build trust in all that you do, to create a safer place in your relationships.

2. Creating a safe place to fail

It may seem a little odd that we want to create a place to fail - aren’t we all about success? Yes we want success and successful teams, but success does not come without failure. We need to see failure as feedback on the journey to success. If you are pursuing new and innovative ways to drive success in your business, you are not necessarily going to get it right first time. This attitude towards your team enables you to create an empowering culture.

An empowering culture sends out a message of ‘I trust you’. This message of trust nourishes the team and provides an environment where people can have a go and fail. This encourages people to stretch themselves and be more resourceful. Creating an empowering culture is about demonstrating that the team contribution matters, and that they are valued for who they are. If they believe they are valued and their contribution matters, they will be accountable and responsible and relish being empowered.

The results of empowering your team are immense, including the following:

1. Increasing the opportunity to have more innovation and creativity.

2. Goals are delivered in a more productive and efficient way.

3. You will learn from your team.

4. Your team will be inspired and will grow.

Here are some ways to create an empowering culture that embodies a safe place to fail:

1. Give clear boundaries.

2. Have confidence and trust in your team.

3. Give clarity of purpose, expectations, and timings of delivery.

4. Support accordingly.

5. Be kind towards failure and encourage the identification of learning opportunities.

6. Praise when due but give clear and honest feedback at all times.

7. Be open to a new way of doing something through your team.

3. Actively listening and respecting each other

These 2 actions actually fuel each other: if people feel listened to then they feel respected for their contribution and vice versa. Actively pursuing these actions will make people feel the following:

1. Valued

2. Supported

3. Understood

Listening in itself is a very effective tool. There is something very powerful about creating an environment where your team member knows that you are fully present and fully immersed in listening to them. This has a tremendous amount of impact - ‘to know you are not going to be interrupted… is bliss’ (Nancy Kline). This means listening so well that your team member is repeatedly directed back to their own thinking and can gather greater personal insight.

We need to ensure that we are listening on a ‘deep’ level. Deep listening is when you are totally and fully engaged with the person who is speaking. Your focus is entirely on them and their words, thoughts and feelings. You are conscious of their body language, tone of voice and speaking patterns. You are fully present in every way. There are no thoughts, ideas or suggestions in your mind as you are being totally non-judgemental and allowing them to use the space to speak and explore their situation. At first, people may feel uncomfortable as it can seem a little unusual, however to have someone listen to you in this way is very empowering and liberating.

4. Encouraging social interactions

Resilience is found in teams and organisations that have strong social bonds. The social aspects of a team are equally, if not more, important than the team’s talent or technical abilities. Google recently shared their research on the secret of building a more productive team, called Project Aristotle. In studying more than 100 teams, the one factor that stood out above all others was a team culture characterised by psychological safety. The strongest teams weren’t filled with the brightest minds or the hardest workers; the #1 thing that led to team success was psychological safety defined by the following characteristics:

1. Team members were skilled at reading emotions based on nonverbal cues. If someone appeared down, others showed concern and support.

2. Each person spent roughly the same amount of time speaking during conversations - showing value for all perspectives.

So encourage social interactions within your teams; either put on organised events or empower your team to organise them. But also make events natural and organic, and certainly encourage out of work socialising amongst your staff - perhaps even initiative some socialising yourself in a low key way.

5. Leading by example

Imitation is a powerful form of learning and shapes human behaviour. Throughout our lives we learn by imitating the patterns of thought and behaviour of those around us. Often we are completely unaware that we are doing such observational learning. It is not taught. Rather we simply pick it up merely by being exposed to others and the need to belong and fit in.

Bandura’s Social Learning theory holds that modelling involves more than simply mimicry, imitation or observational learning. He suggested that each person is able to integrate thoughts, values, behaviours and emotional reactions that resemble those of a role model but that could be adapted to fit the particular personality and circumstances of the learner.

Suppose, for example, that you know someone who always seems to handle complex and stressful situations with relative ease. You admire this resilient person and wonder how she or he does it. You intentionally begin to observe their behaviour over time and may notice patterns.

This observed pattern you can now turn into a rule or model that you can modify for yourself for use during a variety of stressful situations. Doing so and keeping sensitive to what works best for you, you will develop and enhance your own personal resilience.

It is vital to model to others what you are learning, and how you are developing the skill of resilience, thus helping create a psychologically safe environment.

In conclusion, to be a resilient organisation we need to build resilient individuals and one key aspect to foster this resilience is to create a psychologically safe environment.

If you are interested in knowing more about how you can build a resilient culture, I offer workshops and master classes, all accessed online, along with a self-paced online Resilience course aimed at team leaders.

Julian Roberts

Executive Coach | Trainer | Founder

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