It’s important to know that every message has a fact and a feeling part. One must identify both parts in order to deal with a conflict effectively or to communicate clearly.
This is a Kathy Observation, not researched fact, but I’m pretty sure that you cannot create psychological safety and strictly stick to facts all the time. We are humans, and humans have feelings. As leaders, we don’t have the luxury of ignoring them. I learned this lesson late in life, and it would have saved me some time and trouble if I’d known about it sooner.
For 20 years, I led volunteers as an Army spouse. In one group that met monthly, there was one young woman who always sat at my right hand and objected to everything that the group proposed. She objected on a factual level – logistics, budget, convenience. She slowed us down every single month.
If I’d been savvier, I would have figured out that it wasn’t the facts that she objected to. I had a vague notion that she was unhappy or resentful, but I had no idea why. There was a feeling component that I wasn’t dealing with at that time. If I’d asked and listened, I could have saved us a lot of time arguing over facts for no good reason.
Now I pay attention to everyone’s nonverbal communication and ask about any telltale signs of an emotion. People often agree with something or say that everything is fine while their nonverbals say exactly the opposite. Crossed arms, furrowed brows, and a lack of eye contact are all indicators that they don’t agree and everything is not fine. They will carry those unexpressed feelings out the door and stew in them if I don’t bring them out in the open by asking some questions.
It can feel scary to voluntarily dive into the ocean of emotions. The water is murky and deep, and you have no idea of what lurks down there. Take heart! First, leadership requires bravery – so take a deep breath, and go for it! Second, naming an emotion that you see and asking about it can create an uncomfortable situation, but it isn’t fatal. In the workplace, you generally get an explanation for the emotion that makes a lot of sense and gives you new information. The answers can be surprising – something that you wouldn’t have guessed.
We can only create psychological safety if we deal with both the facts and the feelings of individuals. The only way to identify the feeling part of a situation is to ask!
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