How to Run Psychologically Safe Meetings
Meetings, whether in-person or virtual (or the worst kind – a hybrid of the two, where some attendees are together in a room, and the others are remote), are a fact of life for many of us. In fact, many of us spend up to 90% of our working day in one kind of meeting or another.
Far from being a waste of time, meetings can be highly productive – whether the goal is to reach a decision, plan work, investigate a problem, or educate and train. But they can only be highly productive if everyone attending feels psychologically safe enough to contribute effectively, by listening, learning, presenting ideas, or even challenging the ideas of others.
You can create a more psychologically safe meeting environment by using some or all of the techniques below (and download our action pack to access all our psychological safety tools and resources):
1: Start with short introductions or warm up exercises
Evidence shows that people feel increased psychological safety and are much more able to speak up if they’ve already spoken in a group situation or meeting, even if it’s just “my name is Julie and my favourite food is pizza”. If everyone in the room knows each other already, go around the table with a simple question (sometimes called an icebreaker), which could be anything from “What’s the last thing you watched on Netflix?” to “What’s your favourite pizza topping?”
2: Admit a mistake
Especially if you’re in a leadership role, build psychological safety in meeting by admitting a recent mistake, or a time when you were wrong about something. If possible, and to make it easier, tell it as a narrative, a story that encourages people to listen and identify with you. By showing that it’s ok to admit mistakes, or if you were wrong about something, you’re creating the psychological safety which encourages and allows others to do the same.
3: Have someone chair the meeting
Have someone chair the meeting to control the schedule, facilitate effective contributions and ensure people do not get spoken over, to increase psychological safety. Ideally, the chair should be not be a senior leader or anyone who could “threaten” the status of people attending. Having the wrong person running a meeting can damage psychological safety. A very strong move by a senior leader would be to demonstrate the authority of the chair by asking them for permission to contribute. Ensure the stronger, louder voices do not drown out the quieter, but equally valuable, voices.
4: Invite women to speak first
When multiple people want to speak or have their hand up to contribute (virtually or otherwise), try to ensure the first person to speak identifies as female. Evidence suggests that if the first person to speak is a man, women are less likely to speak up, but if the first person is female, both men and women will feel equally psychologically safe to speak up afterwards.
5: Appreciate every contribution
Show your appreciation for contributions, even (indeed, especially) if they’re challenging your own contributions. It takes courage and psychological safety to contribute in a meeting or group setting, especially for those who are not used to speaking up. By praising and thanking people for contributions, you’re encouraging and facilitating that behaviour.
6: Manage your start and finish times
Having clear start times and finish times will improve psychological safety in meetings. Make the intended outcome of the meeting clear, maybe via an agenda if it’s useful to do so. By setting expectations of outcome and timeliness, you are fostering psychological safety via a shared group norm and shared understanding of behaviour requirements.
Use these techniques and behaviours to increase psychological safety in your meetings, and please get in touch to suggest other ways of creating productive and safe spaces for your teams.
Download the Psychological Safety Action Pack to build and maintain psychological safety across your teams or organisation.