We usually celebrate the people who do more, help out, are supportive, and make us feel good. But do you also appreciate the people in your life who tell you “no”?
Similarly, are you free to say “no”? Or are you only appreciated if you are always saying “yes”?
It often takes courage and personal power to stand up and say “no” — especially if yours is the only voice doing so. When this happens, it’s a sign that the culture is one of approval, not of authenticity…. which indicates that some of the voices in the circle are being marginalized, repressed, or silenced. Translation: no one is experiencing psychological safety, and everyone is losing.
We only see what we can see from where we metaphorically sit. And if we make decisions based on feedback from only the people who agree with us, we’re operating blind. The people who disagree with us are our best asset, because they see what we don’t see. But, if they aren’t free to disagree because of the high premium the culture places on approval, their value is lost.
This is equally true in a relationship, a family with teenagers, and at work with your boss. Ultimately, a culture of approval creates cognitive dissonance. If left unchecked, one of two things will happen:
1. The people who disagree with the culture will leave it in search of a place where they can be authentic.
2. Disagreement will come out in covert ways like internal sabotage, dissatisfaction, and rebellion.
Fostering psychological safety is one of the most important functions of any leader.
Healthy leaders (bosses, management, teachers, coaches, parents, etc.) foster a culture of authenticity from the top of the hierarchy. They encourage disagreement and can weave together productive solutions from differing points of view. If that leader is you, take a stand for authenticity as it leads to real progress. If you’re not (yet) in the leadership role, start asking for it, noticing it, and speaking up for it when you notice its absence.
It can be difficult to hear “no” when we’re very attached to our own point of view. You’ll grow when you can set aside your own ideas and listen without judgment to the perspectives of others. You may not always understand, but if you trust that the people around you are as smart as you are, you hold the keys to real success.
“Don’t hire smart people and then tell them what to do. Hire smart people and let them tell YOU what to do.” – Steve Jobs
In a family, it is the same. Empower everyone to be seen and heard. Communicate the expectation of safety for disagreement and another point of view. Make sure you aren’t celebrating the people who always say “yes”.
Being respected, valued, and welcome to contribute in a context of psychological safety produces more than just good feelings. Humans have a hard-wired, biological need to belong, and the research shows that exclusion can negatively impact performance and productivity.
When you focus on creating psychological safety, you can help others feel included – which in turn, will foster the best possible results.