Respect: Psychological Safety

by Ron

Resect

We continue our series on teams and the elements that make up great ones. Teams are at the heart of great performance, greatest happiness, and the best memories. These blog posts are built on the 4 Levels of Happiness by Aristotle. In his framework, Aristotle says that the highest level of happiness will be achieved at Level 4. In describing Level 4 Happiness, Aristotle used five words:

  • Truth
  • Love
  • Purpose
  • Beauty
  • Unity

In this series of posts, I’ve concentrated on the four words of Truth, Love, Beauty, and Unity. Purpose is the word right in the middle of all five. I don’t spend a lot of time concentrating on Purpose because it is so essential and obvious. Without a purpose, there is no team.

I also try to use words that more directly apply to the business environment. Words like love and beauty are words you don’t often hear in corporate meetings. Using words that essentially mean the same thing as the original words and yet seem appropriate in the corporate world, I’ve modified the last three words to make them immediately identifiable and to help you remember them. The four words I’ve used are:

  • Truth
  • Respect
  • Elegance
  • Commitment

The Greeks had several words that all get translated into the English word Love. The Greek word for Love that Aristotle used had nothing to do with emotions or the feeling of love that we have for another person. This word referred to treating the other person with respect. As human beings, we seem to have an innate sense that someone respects us or not. Great teams require great respect (love) for each other.

In unpacking the concept of Respect (or Love), we will look at:

  • At least three elements of building Trust: Humility, Development, Compassion
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Lack of Envy
  • Anger directed at issues or situations, not people
  • No grudges

Psychological Safety

If we look at these first two (Truth – Respect) together, a very powerful concept of psychological safety begins to emerge. Psychological Safety is present every time a team achieves greatness and can even become a predictor of greatness.

Google thought it would look at many of their teams around the company and see if they could figure out what made a high performing team. I believe they looked at 340 teams and in the end, could not find any pattern that predicted high achievement. Or more accurately, they found too many patterns to reach any conclusion until they found the concept of psychological safety.

Amy Edmondson at Harvard is one of the more visible proponents of psychological safety. Once Google built in a psychological safety measurement into their team assessment, there was a correlation between high performing teams and psychological safety.

Psychological Safety on Teams

Having psychological safety on a team means that the truth is spoken, not holding back anything and at the same time, there is so much respect for each person, people feel safe in stating or hearing the truth. These are the first two elements of the highest level of happiness. Teams that can speak the truth with complete respect not only perform at a high level, but they are also a joy to be a part of.

I think that one reason holding teams back in accomplishing complete psychological safety is that people assume truth and respect are at the opposite ends of the same spectrum. I can either speak the total truth, even if it means that I hold people accountable for their failures or shortcoming (one end of the spectrum) or I can show total respect to someone, therefore I must hold back the complete truth (opposite end of the spectrum). But this is a false understanding. We need to think of these two elements as two different dimensions on a chart.

For instance:

  • The vertical dimension may be labeled “Truth” with complete truth at the top and lack of truth at the bottom.
  • The horizontal dimension may be labeled “Respect” with total respect to the right (at the end) and lack of respect to the left.

This leaves us with a two x two grid (which consultants love).

  • Lower Left – Low Truth and Low Respect = Insensitive and Manipulative
  • Upper Left – High Truth but Low Respect = Aggressive and Obnoxious
  • Lower Right – Low Truth but High Respect = Empathy but no accountability
  • Upper Right – High Truth and High Respect = Psychological Safety

Great teams express great truth and have total respect for team members.

Elements of Respect

We’ve pointed out the value of both Truth and Respect here in this blog. In the next few blogs, we’ll explore the elements of great respect including:

  • Humility, Development, and Compassion
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • The benefit of the Doubt
  • No Envy, Anger or Grudges

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