Are You Creating Psychological Safety with your Team?

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“Psychological safety describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.”  — Amy Edmondson

A manager said angrily to her staff member, “This work is not up to par. Don’t you know how to put together a decent presentation?” Clearly, she was agitated that she did not receive a draft that would serve her needs and she had several other pressing deadlines. However, her tone and manner of giving feedback demeaned her team member and caused the team member to feel uncertain. The two did not have a real conversation. At first the team member tried to defend her work. “This is what you said you wanted.”

While she knew that her manager often seemed to change her mind, she felt humiliated and angry and as a result, did not really hear the changes her manager suggested. She was too flooded with stress and she lost her sense of confidence. Instead, she talked about her boss to colleagues. She was looking for empathy and understanding. Instead, they shared their own stories of receiving negative feedback. In a short while the atmosphere of the team became negative. The next version of the presentation that the colleague gave to her manager did not meet her boss’ expectations. Now the boss was complaining about the inadequacies of the team member to her colleagues and other members of the team. The spiral was in place and continued to go downhill.

In this situation, the staff member began complaining about her boss to others outside the department and word filtered back to HR and the boss. Emotions are contagious and the climate of the team declined. Eventually the team member sought out a different role. This team lacked psychological safety. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon situation. The manager and the team member did not intend to be difficult or cause harm and both were skilled and worked hard. Both manager and the team member reacted to stress and both regretted the energy required to deal with the aftermath.  Both would benefit from knowing how to manage their reactions and being able to successfully engage in an open-minded conversation to give and receive feedback. Being open-minded and able to manage ourselves and engage in conversations are critical for success these days.

Google conducted a comprehensive study of 180 teams to analyze the critical ingredients of high performing teams. The study identified psychological safety as the most important factor. If team members felt comfortable asking for constructive feedback and exploring divergent views with one another, they experienced a greater sense of trust and openness. These teams were more productive too.

It is critical to take steps to ensure that your teams are experiencing psychological safety. You can do so by adapting an open mindset and having meaningful conversations with each other. You can agree on norms for how the team will operate. For example, how you will handle disagreements and create a positive climate.  It is important to assume positive intent and respect that people generally desire to do well. Yet we each have different strengths and different views of what is important. When we make assumptions without testing them, we invariably create a negative spiral without our desired results.

What steps are you taking today to create more psychological safety in your teams?

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Stop for a Moment

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“It’s not only moving that creates new starting points. Sometimes all it takes is a subtle shift in perspective, an opening of the mind, an intentional pause and reset, or a new route to start to see new options and new possibilities.” –Kristin Armstrong

If you are like me and my executive clients, it seems like we are moving at a fast pace. There are always many things on our plate and minds. We have more to do than is possible and we often feel like we are falling short of our goals.  We feel we need to run faster, yet we need to stop—at least for a moment.  

By noticing our spinning and rushing, we can stop and shift to become grounded and centered, and then harness more energy to achieve our goals and make a difference for others. Our emotions are contagious and others pick up on our anxiety and stress. When we can pause, feel our feet on the ground, take a breath and recall all that is working, we will be better able to support others and be more effective.

Develop a stopping strategy that works for you. One executive reconnects with her love of music and sings a song which brings her back to the present and puts her in an appreciative mood.  Another takes a walk and feels his feet on the ground and experiences being present.  Another puts on her head-phones and does a guided meditation to leave behind the stress of the office. One leader recalls her children and their connection with gratitude and that puts things into perspective for her. Find a quick path from the stress of the day to being at ease. You will be a stronger person and leader.

Identify a quick way to move from stress to ease. What works for you? Contact us anytime.

Are You Empathetic as a Leader During Challenging Times?

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“When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.” –Stephen Covey

A leader in a large organization told me that she and her team were experiencing malaise and frustration. The organization had a new person at the top with a new vision. This new strategy translated into a different emphasis on their part of the business and they were expected to practically double their outcome without additional resources. To make matters worse, a few key people on the team had recently left the organization.

I worked to give the leader empathy first. It was a difficult situation and each person on the team was handling the stress differently.  After calming down, the leader realized that she needed to support her team. She decided to gather them together and share with them her own frustration with the system yet her excitement about what they could create. However, she needed to find a way to first regain her own energy and vision to support the team.  Once she managed her own fears and frustration through our conversation, she was able to focus on the team. She realized that she needed to give her team members empathy and provide them the space they needed to express their emotions.

My client went on to do this. And she helped her team to reconnect to their compelling vision. They aligned on their mission again and this provided them with a renewed vigor. A lot of energy is gained when we recall our vision and purpose.

Renewed vigor led to looking for solutions. How could they meet their new goals? How could they ask for more resources or feel comfortable with doing their best and not meeting the unrealistic goals?  In this case, they were able to speak and collaborate with another leader and team and receive help toward their goal. My client emerged with new energy herself and the satisfaction of seeing her team mobilize to achieve a compelling vision.

A leader must recognize her emotions and calm down in order to support her team in expressing their emotions, which opens the doors of possibilities and solutions. Then it is useful to share and develop together a compelling vision that is motivating and leads to the removal of obstacles and gaining support. It is not easy to be a leader, but it is rewarding.

Are you managing yourself, supporting your team by giving them empathy, sharing a compelling vision and solving challenges together?  How is it going?

Feel free to contact us to learn more about using the OASIS moves in leadership positions to provide empathy and reinvigorate your team.

Notice What is Working Well

pablo (31)It is our nature to notice what is not working and what we don’t have. We are wired with a negativity bias and we naturally find the black spot, flaw or error. Unfortunately, we can easily fall in the pattern of pointing out mistakes and problems.  Life can often seem like a big problem. Of course, there are always going to be challenges and suffering. It is our human condition.

On the other hand, there are always many things that are going well too. We can train ourselves to see and appreciate more of these things. It makes life more interesting and enjoyable.

I noticed that I was correcting my teenager. I wanted to be a good mother and make sure she had skills for success. While my intention was positive, she took it as criticism. I tried instead to start noticing what she was doing well and the list way surpassed my concerns about being late or playing games on her iPhone or watching too many shows.  I started sharing the positives I noticed and she seemed to do more of those behaviors.  In addition, our relationship improved and our interactions were far more pleasant.

I also realized that I was pointing out to myself what I was not doing adequately and how it made me feel. I tried noticing what I was doing well, like I did for my daughter, and found it much more satisfying.

My executive clients also benefited from the simple act of noticing what was going well and what they were doing well. It takes some practice to change our habitual pattern.

Try an experiment of noticing what is going well and what you are doing well. Let me know what you are experiencing.

What is the Cost of Not Having a Vision Conversation?

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“Vision animates, inspires, transforms purpose into action.” — Warren Bennis

One of the most important investments you can make in yourself and your team is to clarify your personal vision and that of your team or organization. I have supported many teams with this process. It takes some effort to become aligned but the shared vision supports decision-making and also saves energy by averting conflicts that arise from misalignment.

I recall one of my first roles working in an organization. All the members of the division had a different vision for the organization. There were many conflicts as a result–so much wasted energy and a lack of productivity. People were literally initiating projects that were serving different goals.

Sometime people are focused solely on profit as their only goal. However, research reported by Harvard Business Analytics declares, “Those companies able to harness the power of purpose to drive performance and profitability enjoy a distinct competitive advantage.”  In fact, the most profitable companies are not those most focused on profit. This is not a new finding. Collins and Porras reported in the book, “Built to Last” in 1994 that companies with a guiding purpose returned six times more to shareholders than comparative organizations that were primarily driven by profits.  In addition, the World Economic Forum found that businesses that have a clear purpose-driven focus outperform those who do not 14 to 1. So there is much compelling research to support the power of a vision in driving outcomes.  There are many other benefits too. There is more engagement, alignment and fun as people work collectively toward a meaningful future.

A key component of a leader is to encourage people to work toward a shared vision and to communicate frequently to support mission or goal alignment and achievement.  Ideally, individual visions are aligned with organizational visions in order to realize potential.

To create alignment and a shared vision, leaders need to promote mind opening conversations. Team members need to feel heard and need to share empathy in order to create a compelling vision that can drive choices and behavior.  Leaders with the skills to foster such conversations quickly experience the benefits.

I worked with an organization where each of the leaders was creating programs and materials for the field members. Without a shared vision, there was overlap and confusion that led to polarization between the field and the headquarters. After open conversation with the team, they developed a shared vision and were able to save millions of dollars and serve the field offices in a cohesive way and ultimately gain market share with their clients.

What is your personal vision and your team or organization’s vision?  What is your vision for your community and our society?  What can you do to support dialogue to create a shared vision?  

I would love to hear your vision and views on having conversations to create shared visions.

Work to Repair Relationships When Possible

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“In any given situation, both personal and in professional life, I think that the process of restoring trust can be an enormously positive adventure because you can redeem yourself and create newness. For example, when you have a broken relationship with someone, you have to learn to acknowledge your role in it, apologize, and  have humility. Then you need to find a way to involve the person in a process of coming up with a new relationship.”—Stephen Covey

A client of mine who is in a leadership role is trying to implement a new focus in her company and a different way of working–changes which she believes will support her company and their clients. Now it’s just a matter of receiving the support and endorsement of her colleagues for her plan to be successful. What could be the roadblock here?

As we talked about how to gain support, she believed that she would not be successful. She was certain that a key person who would need to adapt the plan would simply never agree. It would not be about her idea; she knew that he would thwart the initiative because he did not like her. Fifteen years earlier, my client had worked with this person, and she had never felt included by him. Sour feelings built, and she eventually changed departments to avoid working with him. Meanwhile, he consistently gave her negative reviews on 360 surveys about her leadership abilities and style. My client conceded that she would not be able to win him over. In fact, she had not even actually spoken to him in many years despite their attending many of the same meetings and both being part of the management group.

My client is not alone. Often, people dislike others in their organizations and it causes great pain for the people involved and thwarts many positive outcomes. Often, the ill sentiments and behaviors are the result of misunderstandings, miscommunications, insecurities or a feeling of competition.

Ideally, it is useful to work on repairing relationships, especially when you are likely to work with the other person in the future. In organizations, people remember conflicts from the past or harbor ill feelings, and this limits them from moving up or forward in their company. In my experience, many people are not promoted simply because someone in senior management recalled an incident that happened years before involving the other person.  It can be hard to shake these negative perceptions.

The good news is that if you reach out to repair a relationship it is often possible to do so. My client was able to approach her nemesis and over time began to build trust. She started by receiving some empathy about the pain he caused her from her executive coach and reflecting on her role in their dynamic.  She began shifting from seeing him as evil and trying to understand his perspective. She worked on being more open to him. She started to acknowledge some of his statements in group meetings and even appreciating some of his actions. By being more positive and open to him, he started being more open to her.  Emotions are contagious and when we change how we see a situation we create space for new possibilities. The result? Her project was endorsed.

Who will it be worthwhile for you to bridge a relationship? Start with acknowledging your negative emotions and looking for your contribution to the situation. Work to look for what you can appreciate about the person and shift to being open.  Look for opportunities to acknowledge and give empathy to the other person.

Feel free to contact us to learn more about using the OASIS moves to help bridge relationships.

Are you Experiencing a Positive, Open Environment in Your Healthcare System?


“Wanting a more positive environment isn’t enough. You need to do something, and it doesn’t require a great deal of effort or some huge change in the way you approach things.”—Tom Rath

We recently traveled to a summit at the Cleveland Clinic where 2,000 people from hospitals around the world gathered to discuss empathy and openness in the health sphere. How inspiring it was to witness a group of healthcare leaders and workers concerned about creating environments of openness, understanding, and respect in their workplaces!

Imagine a concentric circle of increasing positive impact.


When the staff and medical teams at hospitals and clinics feel enthused by an engaging environment, their own feelings are projected outward and affect patients, patient families, visitors, and people who have never even been to the hospital but hear of the positive experience others have had there.

This impact is very tangible. I recently spoke with a client who told me she went to visit a patient in a hospital and she was so very impressed and touched by the security person and receptionist who welcomed her with friendly smiles and words. The respectful welcome was experienced at the nurse station also.  This seems small, right? And yet, she compared this experience to a previous one in which the hospital staff were not as welcoming. “If I ever get sick,” she said, “I’ll go to the hospital where I felt welcomed.”

The most effective advertisements are word-of mouth ones. When someone has a negative experience, they inform ten people, and those ten people inform ten more people, and pretty soon hundreds of people are aware of this negative experience. By contrast, the news of positive experiences may travel less, but such experiences are now so unique that even they travel.

How do we create a positive environment of respect in healthcare?

We have had successful experiences of creating positive cultures at health care systems and organizations across the globe.

We support people in widening their views of respect. Each person has a different definition of respect. We need to have conversations to understand what is most important to others.  Most of us don’t engage in such dialogue and believe our assumptions are accurate.  We have introduced OASIS Conversations which is a simple process of the five key moves that support connection.

The OASIS process is built on the value of giving empathy and cultivating an open mindset, which ultimately leads to refreshing conversations and meaningful connections with others. Hospitals are carefully evaluated and ranked, and the whole patient experience including interactions with hospital staff, nurses, and doctors factors into this ranking. Now more than ever it’s important to cultivate an engaging, oasis environment in these spaces.

Contact us to learn more about how to bring an oasis environment to your healthcare sphere.

Check Your Perspective

Even when our intentions are positive, we only see our perspective. A new principal saw how hard the high school students were working and wanted them to have a break and a “real” holiday. She wrote a note to all teachers telling them not to schedule tests or papers due the week after a holiday. She wanted the students to be able to take a real break.  However, her goodwill gesture was not received with joy by all. Many teachers were upset since they had a curriculum they were following and then decided to test the kids prior to the vacation. The students and parents complained that they ended up having many tests and papers due prior to the break. Other administrators complained because they ended up proctoring tests late into the evening prior to the holiday.

When we see something so clearly it is hard to remember that others may be seeing a very different perspective.

Check your perspectives out with others who may be impacted by your choices.

Being Authentic is Key to Connecting with Others

respectExcerpted from: OASIS Conversations: Leading with and Open Mindset to Maximize Potential

This is the third in a series of tips for more effective communication.

Focus on the goal of being authentic and true to yourself in your interactions while looking for win-win solutions. Years ago, I worried about spelling out these details of how to communicate because I thought some people might use them to manipulate others, but I don’t worry anymore. When you are not interested in another person’s needs and just your own, people seem to sense this pretty quickly. If people think you are using techniques to pull something over on them, or gain an advantage, they generally won’t be supportive in return. Although using the process to create a situation where you win and the other person loses may work a few times, in long-term relationships, it won’t. So explore your motives; make it your intention to be authentic. Reveal some of yourself, showing you are human, and have the goal of understanding others and coming to an agreement that will benefit those involved.

Tell the truth—as much of it as you know or can. Otherwise, you will lose credibility with people and they may not believe you next time. I remember a colleague who often exaggerated or simply said things that were not accurate. As people became aware of this pattern, they did not want to work with her, which caused a lot of problems for her and her coworkers.

Actually, if you have good intentions and state what is accurate, most people will be willing to work with you and grow to trust you. When you do make mistakes, acknowledge them, make amends, and move on. After a CEO apologized to staff for a difficult reorganization, staff members were able to stop fighting him and resume work. Most of the time, people will forgive you, recognizing that everyone does make mistakes occasionally. After all, we are all human.

When we are authentic and have integrity, congruence occurs with what we say (words), our posture or how we hold ourselves (body language), and our emotions or mood (tone). Seminal research by Albert Mehrabian based on experiments dealing with communicating feelings and attitudes shows that when there is incongruity, people tend to believe body language or nonverbal behavior over spoken words. In fact, his research suggests that 7 percent of a message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in the words spoken, while 38 percent of the same message is conveyed by the tone or emotion used in speaking those words. Finally, 55 percent of the message is conveyed by facial or body expression. The more you become aware of the connection between your emotions, your body language, and your words and thoughts, the better able you will be to check in with yourself and ensure more congruity. In addition, you will be able to understand others by paying attention to their words, emotions, and body language.

Leadership Presence and Suggestions for Developing an Effective Leadership Presence

Presence is more than just being there. — Malcolm S. Forbes

Presence as the ability to be attentive and able to respond in the moment. Being present is a key characteristic of effective leaders. Often, we are distracted by a full plate, worry and other pressures. While we may be physically with others, be it colleagues, family or staff, they sense we are not fully with them and we can easily miss what they are saying. They leave without feeling heard or supported.

However, when a leader is present with us, we feel alive in their presence and sense they are with us in the moment. By being present, leaders inspire people to take action. The art of strengthening one’s presence, like improvisational jazz, is to be “in” the immediate moment while being able to respond to the rhythm of what is happening in the moment. We know it when we experience presence and others do too. When we are not present it can feel like “we are not all there”, or act in a manner that suggests derailment from our own resources. The challenge is to recognize when we are derailed in relation to our own presence and once recognized, our challenge is to learn how to return to the aliveness of our presence– where choice for action resides. When we are present, we easily connect with others and they feel understood, valued and seen.

One of the most important things leaders can do is to become self-aware and have the intention of being present with others.

Make it your intention to be present as you interact with others. Notice what supports you in being present, how you feel and the outcomes.

Some Suggestions for Developing an Effective Leadership Presence

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