As we have delved into the aspects of psychological safety as defined by Google’s research findings from Project Aristotle, we have determined that trusting and being trustworthy are essential. We must be willing to be vulnerable by taking risks and stating our opinions. We must also support others when they do the same. When we all feel free to share and dare, we have created psychological safety.
And – vulnerability is scary and difficult. Even before I started writing about psychological safety, I’d been working on being vulnerable. I can tell you that it takes some bravery to reveal your thoughts and feelings to others.
I started by combatting my desire to be right. It came from a youth of having any error or misstep pounced upon and ridiculed. In order to avoid harassment, I urgently and determinedly avoided being wrong. Like Fonzie, I had a challenge in saying the phrase “I was wrong” and apologizing. I feel I’ve improved, and I continue to work on it.
I did not grow up in an “I love you” household but was determined to tell my own children that I love them. I do love them with all of my heart, and it’s still awkward for me sometimes. They are grown men now, and I still hug them every chance that I get. That never feels awkward! I consider that a great personal accomplishment, even though it may not sound like a big deal to most people. I’m working on expanding my circle of people with whom I am willing to be emotionally vulnerable.
I’ve also gotten better about asking for help. To be honest, I went into that one kicking and screaming. Brain surgery in 2009 and a divorce this year both left me a mess. I couldn’t have gotten through either one without some emotional support and physical help. I don’t like asking for help, but I’m getting a lot of practice. Fortunately, I’m surrounded by wonderful people who answer the call and make it a positive experience. In fact, they have created psychological safety for me.
And the learning continues. I’m blogging about vulnerability and getting frustrated with others’ lack of bravery. Then I go to exercise class. I walk in, and the back row is completely full. No one wants to be in front of anyone else. The rest of the room is empty, but the back row is shoulder-to-shoulder. I walk to the side and start to set up in a small, inconspicuous space.
Ding, ding, ding! Hello, Kathy! I realize the cowardice of crouching on the side. I heave a sigh and move my mat to the center of the room. Walking the talk. Showing courage. Dang! I am not limber and not terribly graceful, but I am standing in the middle of the room – being awkward and vulnerable. It’s a super inconsequential setting. No one cares if I am terrible! However, it’s still difficult and great practice for being vulnerable and showing bravery.
My mom did become more warm and fuzzy later in life. As an adult, she truly made me uncomfortable when she told me that she loved me and gave me a hug. Looking back, I see that she made the intentional choice to be emotionally vulnerable. I wish that I had caught on and joined her enthusiastically before she passed away in 2001. I didn’t, so the only thing I can do now is take up her banner.
Regret is way worse than that uncomfortable feeling of being vulnerable. That’s an important point to remember. If we aren’t vulnerable, we miss all kinds of opportunities to build relationships and success. Take a deep breath, and join me front and center. It’s really not so bad.
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