A lot has been written about psychological security in recent years and for me, it is not just a fancy organizational psychology trend, but something critical to success as individuals and as organisations.
We should be naturally ourselves in any situation, including our work, to be able to give our best. The reason is simple when you feel one way, but act or speak in another way, you feel cognitive dissonance. If you are not aligned with your values, with your beliefs, if you are not authentic at work (or at any other situation) you may not feel confident to express your ideas and thoughts. One of the main problems is that you may not be only uncomfortable with yourself, you’re also uncomfortable connecting with others.
It is true that sometimes the thought of being authentic at work can be a challenge, as you feel that it may leave you vulnerable. But, when you act and interact in the way you really are, you’re showing others that you’re confident to be yourself and it helps you become stronger and to inspire others to do the same.
If you inspire others to be authentic and to show their real self, people will start to feel they are in an environment in which they can share ideas and different perspectives, an environment in which diversity is well valued. Because we are all different and we are all unique. We know that diverse teams are better at problem-solving, diversity means more creativity and innovation thanks to the contribution of different thoughts and ways to do things. On top of that, recent research has found a real link between authenticity and happiness. They have found that to be intrinsically connected is crucial to really achieve professional fulfilment.
At NTT DATA we believe and we work to ensure that people feel secure. It is the role of the leader to encourage people to be their true self by creating an environment of psychological safety.
Professor Amy Edmondson (1999) of Harvard coined the term “psychological safety” which she described as “the shared belief that a team is safe for personal risk-taking…that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up.”
Psychological safety facilitates people to express themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally rather than disengage or withdraw and defend their personal selves. Organizations with high levels of psychological safety have employees that were more likely to voice their opinions to support and improve the organization.Grant & Ashford (2008) showed that psychological safety impact in proactive behaviour especially that related to challenging the status quo or improving organizational functioning. Kark & Carmeli (2009) examined the affective components of psychological safety and argued that psychological safety induces feelings of vitality, which impact an individual’s involvement in creative work.
This is critical if we expect employees to feel well, innovate, integrate perspectives, share information and ideas, and collaborate to achieve shared goals. Nowadays the current COVID-19 situation requires more than ever people to feel confident with themselves and to work together to accomplish goals.
Neuroscience research has made significant gains in understanding the things that happen in the structures of our brains during both cognitive processing and social responses. Physical pain and painful social situations activate the same pain neural network and in much the same way. When we have physical injuries or experience social pain such as rejection, humiliation, embarrassment or criticism our brain reacts to them with similar physical sensations, emotions and a degree of feeling unsafe. On the other hand pleasant physical and social experiences also activate the same reward network in our brains. That means when we sense we are included, valued or useful it is also a pleasurable and rewarding physical experience.
So we experience emotions and social pleasure or pain in our bodies and it is important to note that our brains are wired to maximize pleasure and avoid pain.At an organization where people lack psychological safety, where a foundation of trust has not been built, we allow the brain’s fear-avoidance mechanisms to take over. Fear shuts down our ability to provide critical input, ask questions, and admit when we don’t have an answer. But when we provide psychological safety, when we create an environment of respect and trust we contribute to the success by being ourselves.
Leaders are key to creating this environment. Leaders may build a culture of psychological safety to help employees to be themselves. We know that this is not an easy task because we are talking about positive emotions like trust, curiosity, confidence, and inspiration as the ones that help us build psychological safety. We are talking about feelings and not about instructions.
So how can you increase psychological safety on your own team?
- See disagreement as an opportunity for learning. Approach conflict as a collaborator, not an adversary. Avoid competition or criticism.Have meaningful conversations. Speak from a human to human perspective. Show respect and promote positive language and behaviours.
- Replace blame with curiosity. John Gottman’s research at the University of Washington shows that blame and criticism reliably escalate conflict, leading to defensiveness and to disengagement. The alternative to blame is curiosity.Adopt a learning mind-set, you don’t have all the information and facts.
- Ask for feedback. Asking for feedback on how you lead increases trust in leaders.
- And the most important… use your empathy for understanding the need of each member of your team.
At NTT DATA we have a leadership style based on purpose and on making values-based decisions. We put our people in the centre of the organization and we provide them spaces of trust and vision. Because we know we become more open-minded, resilient, motivated, and persistent when we feel safe.
We have formal and informal organizational practices for guiding and supporting open and trustful interactions within the work environment. We feel safe to speak up, make suggestions, point out problems, and disagree with management and our peers. We feel safe and respected and valued for who we are.
We are committed to advancing diversity and inclusion in the workplace, we have initiatives and plans to cultivate an environment in which all of as can be ourselves, where diverse experiences and perspectives are welcomed, where everyone is encouraged to be their authentic self.We are proud to be ourselves, we are proud to be NTT DATA.