Psychological Safety Newsletter #43 – WEIRD People and Bad Bosses

Training, Workshops, Exercises and Tools

Psychological Safety Newsletter #43 – WEIRD People and Bad Bosses

psychological safety and fun

Happy New Year! Welcome to the psychological safety newsletter and thanks for subscribing. You rock. 

This week includes WIERD people, Semantic Diffusion, bad bosses, fun, email negativity, Theranos, hidden conditions, neurodiversity and leadership, If you enjoy reading this newsletter, please share it via your social networks and/or forward it to other people who may appreciate it.

This newsletter is sponsored by Conflux.

Conflux is the leading business consultancy worldwide helping organisations to navigate fast flow in software. We help organisations to adopt and sustain proven, modern practices for delivering software rapidly and safely.

Fostering psychological safety is one of the principles that organizations must adopt in order to succeed – according to Jon Smart’s recent book, ‘Sooner Safer Happier: Antipatterns and Patterns for Business Agility’. Sophie Weston, Principal at Conflux, has been taking a closer look at the patterns for creating psychological safety and describes her key takeaways in this article.

Big news! The first Psychological Safety meetup is planned for January 25th 2022!
7pm UK time / 8pm CET / 11am PST / 2pm EST / 6am EADT. 
Register here!

Thanks so much to Romy, Stephanie, Paul and Samantha in the Psych Safety Community for all your help getting this moving! Our first meetup is a little bit of a trial run (everything is an experiment, right?!), and we’re going to kick off with a roughly 25 minute talk about the fundamentals of psychological safety (history, research and application), followed by a “Lean Coffee” session where everyone who wants to be involved can get involved. Don’t worry if you’d like to be more of an observer – there’s no obligation to speak up, or even have your camera on! Register here!

Psychological Safety In the Workplace: I remember a manager many years ago telling me that although you write an email in your friendly voice, someone can still read it in your shouty voice, and I’ve always since believed in trying very hard to ensure that my positive intentions are clear in written comms. This great article from the BBC shows that effect clearly, where we often have “…a negative intensification bias – that is, an inclination to “read in” more negativity than is apparent in the objective features of the message. It shows context and relationships can influence just how much negativity we perceive.” So, work hard on your emails, and apply Hanlon’s Razor to any emails you receive that seem shouty!

I like this from Stefan Lindegaard – whilst in some organisations it seems a bit taboo to suggest that work should be fun, I’m a big believer that high performing teams are teams that have fun: and that psychological safety is a prerequisite for (inclusive) fun.  

This is a good piece from Lindsay Kohler reflecting on the Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos case, and how it might not have happened, or got so far, had Theranos possessed (and Holmes created) an environment of psychological safety – one where team members “are more likely to spot the cracks in their business while there is still a chance to course-correct” and raise them without fear of reprisal.

“How can we expect to see any positive change if individuals with hidden conditions and disabilities are too scared- for genuine economic and health reasons- to disclose, and employers are too entrenched in what and how business ‘should be’ to embrace any new ways of working?” This is a great article from the ABP on Workplace Psychological Safety for those with Hidden Conditions and Disabilities.

One of the most pernicious stereotypes is that neurodivergent people are only a good “fit” for subordinate positions or working in highly technical or individual roles. This article espouses why neurodivergent people make great leaders, not just employees, and highlights the tyranny of team “fit”.

Psychological Safety Theory, Research and Opinion:
Here’s a really interesting article from Joseph Heinrich about WEIRD societiesWestern, Educated, Individualistic, Rich, and Democratic. “WEIRD people… rely heavily on analytic thinking over more holistic approaches to problems. … Analytic thinking places people or objects into distinct categories and assigns them properties to account for their behavior. Here people get assigned preferences or personality. Particles and planets get assigned charge and gravity. On the other hand, holistic thinkers focus on relationships, context, and interaction. For example, if person A is yelling at person B, an analytical thinker might infer that person A is an angry person while a holistic thinker worries about the relationship between persons A and B.” I’m really interested to learn and study more about how psychological safety is created, and what it looks like, in different kinds of societies and cultures, particularly in individualistic (typically Westernised) vs collectivist cultures.

I believe resilience engineering is a strong contender for the next organisational paradigm, and fundamentally is all about people, relationships, and learning – which is all underpinned by psychological safety. “…there’s something fundamental about the world of DevOps that links with the way of resilience engineering that isn’t just limited to the digital world.” This is a great write-up of Resilience Engineering by John Maeda. 

The phenomenon of the term “psychological safety” being used inaccurately or incorrectly isn’t going away. I’ve encountered a few occasions this week of it being used to describe something related to “wellness” initiatives, or a general sense of safety from risk.Dragan Stepanović reminded me of this post by Martin Fowler, who coined (I believe) the term “semantic diffusion”“Semantic diffusion occurs when you have a word that is coined a person or group, often with a pretty good definition, but then gets spread through the wider community in a way that weakens that definition. This weakening risks losing the definition entirely – and with it any usefulness to the term.

Things to do and try: It’s January, and this time of year often sees the highest number of people deciding to change jobs. I particularly like the idea of putting your job on probation (after all, organisations do it to people!), after you’ve made all the appropriate and safe efforts to effect positive change in your team and/or organisation.

Should you be in that job-hunting state right now, here’s a good article on how to spot a bad boss in an interview. Once, I had an interview for a CTO role where the CEO was late to the interview and then spent most of the time on his phone. Suffice to say, I didn’t go to work there, and this article highlights some other red flags that could save you from a terrible boss.

Assuming you’re staying in your role at least for the time being, here’s a great piece describing some of the persistent problems of leadership and how to recover from feelings such as exhaustion, confusion, negativity or sadness.  

This week’s poem:

Risk, by Anais Nin

And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
it took
to blossom.

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