Riptide: Psychological Safety in a Cancel-Culture World

Tony Kern, Ed.D

By Tony Kern, Ed.D
Chief Executive Officer, Convergent Performance

Posted on March 1, 2022
business meeting

There is a dangerous riptide taking place right now between what is acceptable in our society and what is necessary in our workplace.

Let’s begin with a clear definition of psychological safety. Psychological safety is the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, or concerns. Organizational behavioral scientist Amy Edmondson of Harvard first introduced the construct of “team psychological safety” and defined it as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.”

That is pretty straightforward and exceedingly valuable to any organization that wants to know where hazards and threats exist and how things can be made better. If people fear speaking up, or reporting, or delivering “bad news” to the boss, then risks lie in wait unmitigated, and innovation comes to a screeching halt.

Simple Rules for Positive Interactions
There are a few basic rules to follow for individuals looking to create psychological safety. Don’t interrupt people when they are speaking. Don’t practice disrespectful body language like rolling your eyes or shaking your head when others propose ideas or identify problems. Actively listen and seek to understand where others are coming from. Practice empathy.

All good stuff. Here’s the problem.
Try speaking your mind on nearly any issue outside of the workplace and you are likely to be skewered six ways from Sunday by a host of trolls who seek not only to discredit you but perhaps even destroy you. Just recently, I witnessed this firsthand when a person on our local community chat politely wrote that she hadn’t received the best service at a local restaurant.

Almost immediately upon posting her comment, she was called a liar, a “dimwitted tourist who should go back to California,” and a host of other names not fit for print. How likely is this person to ever speak up and take a risk again, either online or at work?

Saving the Lost Art of Listening
Societal trends have very real impacts on our psyche. As anything and everything seems to turn into an “us vs. them” war of opinions (with few facts), the ability to reason and respectfully listen to the ideas of others is rapidly becoming a lost art.

This has very real implications on a host of things we rely on in aviation. CRM courses teach us it’s “what is right, not who is right.” Just cultures are anything but just when we can’t listen and change our minds as evidence is presented. Reporting systems break down when people become more and more unwilling to challenge the status quo or bring a bad practice or procedure to light. Interpersonal risk-taking has become hazardous.

Aviation has long led the world in many aspects of human factors, and we must not succumb to the social pressures to conform and “stay out of it.” Let’s demonstrate our leadership once again by having the courage to speak up, change our minds in the light of new ideas, and keep our industry the safest in the world.

Convergent Performance Convergent Performance
Convergent Performance is uniquely dedicated to reducing human error in high risk environments.

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