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  • Writer's pictureAndy Goram

How To Create & Measure Psychological Safety

One of the fundamental foundations of employee engagement is having a workforce that feels like they truly belong in their organisation and that they have a voice. And often that manifests itself in feeling recognized, valued, and safe. Safe to speak up, and confident that they will be heard without fear of retribution for doing so. In today's world of work, we call that Psychological Safety.


The job of any good manager, leader and organisation is to create the kind of working environment that delivers Psychological Safety, and this often comes down to the quality of interpersonal skills the supervisor, manager or leader possesses. A fixed mindset approach to this would be that you're either good at this stuff, or you're not. But a growth mindset perspective would believe that these skills can be taught, learned and developed. But what specifically are these skills, and how do you begin to measure them and develop them?


As host of the popular employee engagement podcast, Sticky From The Inside, I recently spoke to Psychological Safety expert, Stephan Wiedner, on the topic and below is a full transcript of our conversation, where he shares his thoughts and insights on the topic and reveals the 8 dimensions of facilitated interpersonal skills for managers, that he, and the well known Harvard Professor of Leadership and Management, Professor Amy Edmonsdson, are about to begin research into. You can also listen to the full conversation here.


Two men discussing Psychological Safety on a Podcast
Stephan Wiedner (left) and Andy Goram (right) discuss the interpersonal skills needed to create Psychological Safety

The Podcast Introduction

Andy Goram (00:10):

Hello and welcome to Sticky From the Inside. The employee engagement podcast that looks at how to build stickier competition-smashing consistently successful organizations from the inside out. I'm your host, Andy Goram, and I'm on a mission to help more businesses turn the lights on behind the eyes of their employees, light the fires within them, and create tons more success for everyone.


(00:39):

This podcast is for all those who believe that's something worth going after and would like a little help and guidance in achieving that. Each episode we dive into the topics that can help create what I call stickier businesses. The sort of businesses where people thrive and love to work, and where more customers stay with you and recommend you to others because they love what you do and why you do it. So if you want to take the tricky out of being sticky, listen on.


(01:11):

Okay, what does it take for you to show up, stand up, and bring your best self to work every day? I suspect the answer may well be different for each of us. As we talked only a few episodes ago with Dr. Stewart Desson, our personalities are all different after all. So it's only natural that those requirements will differ for each of us. However, at work, there's probably something common that's underlying whatever our individual needs may be, and that is a sense of psychological safety.


(01:46):

A belief that you'll not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes that you make, and that the team is a safe space for interpersonal risk taking. And that is a quote from the renowned organizational behavioral scientists and Harvard, professor Amy Edmondson, who's famous for her work around psychological safety. And we'll talk more about Amy later on in this episode.


(02:14):

But let's just think about that quote for a second because this is what can unlock untold performance from the people you lead and work alongside. Imagine what you could accomplish if the nature and quality of the conversations you have with each other could improve or be untethered. For that to happen, you need to have established an environment of psychological safety. So how do you go about doing that?


(02:43):

Well, with me today is Stephan Wiedner. Stephan is a psychological safety expert whose career is focused on developing sustainable high performance leaders, teams and organizations. His passion for unleashing the collective potential of people, has led him to co-found noomii.com. It's the world's largest network of independent life coaches and skillsetter.com, the deliberate practice platform for interpersonal skills, and then zarango.com, the psychological safety training experts.


(03:19):

But that's not all. He's about to embark on a groundbreaking piece of research on the connection of interpersonal skills and their impact on psychological safety with Amy Edmondson. And perhaps the most interesting thing for me is that he's also a volunteer firefighter, which if you think about it, if you were ever going to choose a profession with a trust and belief in your teammates to work as a team and have each other's back as important, firefighting would probably be right up there. So I'm dead excited to get stuck into all of that with Stephan to see what we can learn from him and see what else he's going to share. Welcome to the show, Stephan!


Stephan Wiedner (04:03):

Welcome, Andy. It's a pleasure to be here and great introduction.


Andy Goram (04:07):

Well, thank you very much, my friend. It's super to have you here. I am so excited for today's conversation. But do us a quick favor, will you, Stephan Just give my listeners a bit of a better introduction to you, bit of your background, and interestingly what you're really focused on at the moment.


Introduction to Stephan Wiedner

Stephan Wiedner (04:23):

Well, I think you did a pretty good job of introducing me. You talked about the three different organizations that we have, so Noomii, Skillsetter and Zarango, and also the fact that I'm a volunteer firefighter, so I would be remiss to say to not mention the fact that I'm married and have a couple kids. So we're entering some interesting times in that my son is graduating from high school here in a matter of weeks. So that's going to be a big change for our family.


(04:54):

And professionally, where I'm really focusing my time and energy is on work around interpersonal skills. And you mentioned the study, so it strongly relates to that and looking at how individuals can really improve their interpersonal skills in treating them like skills that an athlete possesses. So we all know about professional athletes and how they train and how they practice and how they master their craft, and the hours and hours of dedicated effort that goes into that. And what we recognize is that for interpersonal skills, leadership skills, these sorts of communication skills, they often get, I would say, viewed through a fixed mindset where people believe, well, I either have those skills or I don't, and we fail to recognize that we can practice those skills, whatever those skills may be. So that's where my real focus has been in the last, oh matter of, I wouldn't say months, it's probably been years now.


Andy Goram (05:58):

Still lots going on though on. On that personal thing, that time goes quick and so much going on professionally as well with you. We should get definitely stuck into some of that stuff. I want to start with something that you said when we first had a sort of catch up that really piqued my interest because we were talking about what was going on in your life and all the things around psychological safety and your influences, and you said, and I love this,

"You see, Andy, ambivalence is just a big enemy for me."

Now, what on earth did you mean by that, my friend? Explain what that meant and how that's influencing this conversation today.


The Issue of Ambivalence & Presenteeism

Stephan Wiedner (06:37):

Well, in your introduction, you talked about how you want everybody or everybody ideally will show up to work and be engaged and excited, and we have different personalities, so different work environments will work for different people. So that is absolutely true. And you also mentioned that common thread of psychological safety. So I see this ambivalence as the antithesis of psychological safety because ambivalence, it's that feeling inside where you're just not engaged, where, eh, right, it's like, meh, I don't really care, I'm not that excited. Maybe you show up to work, maybe you're even doing good quality work, you're following all the rules, you're doing what's been asked but no more. And so for me, that's what I mean by ambivalence. I see ambivalence as this internal state wherein we're just punching the clock, we're just showing up, barely.


Andy Goram (07:39):

It's that piece of sort of just showing up, but not stepping up and stepping in, right? It's real engagement in what we're talking about here.


Stephan Wiedner (07:48):

Absolutely, yeah. It's about being able to really lean in the cycle. And again, I believe different environments appeal to different personalities and so on, what I regard as being the underlying factor that allows people to really lean into their work and do great work is feeling like you're heard, feeling like you have a voice and your voice matters at work. What you say, what you contribute is valued. And so the more that we can create environments where that is the case, the more people will be leaning in and combating this concept of ambivalence.


Andy Goram (08:27):

And I know the numbers over here in the UK, they're quite frightening. I think from an engagement perspective, we lag somewhere mid-table. But the presenteeism, which I think we're sort of really talking about here, the bit of the iceberg you don't see, right? It's something like 66% of the workforce are present. They're not really firing on all cylinders, they're not really encouraged to, they've never really been necessarily asked for opinions or ideas. Even though they might have them, they could just be sitting there latent, right waiting, no one's asked them, right? We've got this precondition, it seems that we go where the problems are, right? We go and try and solve the guys who've just are disengaged as opposed from this kind of grey area in the middle. Is that the same over in The States? You see that sort of stuff going on? Are the numbers something similar, do you think?


Stephan Wiedner (09:19):

Absolutely. I believe it was a Gallup poll couple years ago that suggested that something like 70% of folks at work didn't think that their voice mattered.


Andy Goram (09:31):

Wow.


Stephan Wiedner (09:32):

70%. So that means 30% are likely engaged, and I would gather that the other 70% are not. I love that you mentioned the iceberg or you mentioned a iceberg. And we use that as a metaphor to describe psychological safety because what is it when someone is not speaking up, what you see, what you hear is the tip of the iceberg. And as we know, that's maybe 10% of the iceberg. It's exposed, it's above the water. And what's below is what people are thinking.


(10:07):

And so if you think about an environment where you have a high degree of psychological safety, what you want to do is you want to almost push that iceberg above the water so that what people are saying is much more equivalent to what they're thinking. There isn't this massive difference between what they're saying and what they're thinking. So an environment with psychological safety is often characterized as an environment that's very polite.


(10:31):

So there's a lot of, "Yes, oh, that's a great idea. Sure, I'll do that. No problem." Right? That's very polite. It's not,

"That's the worst idea I've ever heard. Why are you making me do this again? We did this project last year, now you're asking me to do this review project again. What the heck? This is such a waste of time and energy because every time we do this, nothing ends up happening."

That level of frustration or observation is what's needed. You need some of that pushback. If all you're hearing is politeness, agreeableness, that's a sign that what is above the iceberg, above the water rather, is much different than what's below what they're thinking versus what they're saying.


Andy Goram (11:14):

I think that's so true. Some of the funnest stuff I get to do, Stephan, is whether it's leadership stuff or personal development, is when you start combining things like the iceberg metaphor, like Lencioni's Five Dysfunctions of a Team stuff, like the psychological safety. When you use all those things, and often I'll use the iceberg metaphor, in the context of showing vulnerability with building trust and what have you, just lowering your own water level, sharing a bit of yourself as someone getting some better understanding, all this stuff, I love the fact that you talk about a bit more challenge, because when people think about teams and all that stuff, they go on about, oh, it feels edgy, it doesn't feel nice and relaxed.


(12:01):

Well, great teams are not just nice fluffy places to live. They challenge the wotsit out of each other. To me, that's what signifies a really strong team. They can have it out on a discussion. They can really dig into the issues. They can challenge each other, because it comes from a place of trust or in this conversation from place of safety. We're challenging the issues we're trying to work it through. We're all coming from a great place because we want to get to a great result. And that means we take responsibility for digging in and questioning and pushing, right? That's what we're talking about here.


Stephan Wiedner (12:35):

Exactly. You said it so well, it's all about pushing one another. It's not about politeness and agreeableness. It's about being able to have that rigorous conversation in order to serve the team and the broader organization. It's all about how do we facilitate greater outcomes here as a group, as a team, as an organization.


The Two Distinct Areas Of Psychological Safety

Andy Goram (12:56):

And I think if we think about the construct of psychological safety itself, you're an expert in it, you're working with experts on it, and we will get into this project that you're working on in the future in a while. But when we talk about psychological safety for my money, interested to hear your view, it normally fits into almost two distinct areas. It talks about that piece about somewhere where you feel like you belong and you can speak your mind without any of those consequences that we've talked about before. But also in today's workplace, there's an element, I guess, of the diversity and inclusion piece as well. Now, do you recognize it in those two places? Do you see it in the work that you do? Do you see it as just an overarching piece? Is there really two different buckets or is it all the same thing? What do you think? Where do you come at it from, Stephan?


Stephan Wiedner (13:53):

Yeah, I don't think you can have diversity and inclusion without psychological safety. I really don't. I see those as two halves of the same coin, I guess, or two sides of the same coin. And if you look at the questions that Amy Edmondson has created to assess psychological safety, there's only seven of them, first of all. So it's quite easy to assess, which is a real benefit. And two of the questions speak directly to that. So one of them is to what extent are your differences appreciated on this team? And then the second one is to what extent are your unique qualities and traits used and perceived as a benefit? So it's not enough to just see people as being different, but also that you leverage their strengths and weaknesses and whatever interesting, unique qualities they bring to the table. And that to me is part of diversity and inclusion.


Understanding & Curiosity Lie Behind Psychological Safety

Andy Goram (14:58):

To me, it does all stem from the core part about each individual member of this team has an equal part to play. Each voice is as loud as each other. Everybody has an opportunity to contribute as much as they can, regardless of background, experience, whatever it might be. That's my simplistic view of it. Is that how you think it should show up, does show up? What do you see going on in that whole world of psychological safety right now, Stephan?


Stephan Wiedner (15:29):

Oh, these are really big questions you're asking.


Andy Goram (15:31):

Sorry.


Stephan Wiedner (15:33):

Well, I don't think you need to apologize. I think that's partly what really drives me about psychological safety. So I really see psychological safety as almost like a tool for world peace, right, the ramifications. You can talk about psychological safety within a team, you can talk about it between countries, you can talk about it globally, you can sort of zoom right in or you can zoom way out and look at the much bigger picture. And I think that it's relevant in both cases.


(16:04):

One of the big, I guess, considerations that we look at with psychological safety is around the idea of seeking understanding. So if you look at a lot of interpersonal skills, research and communication skills, research around how to negotiate, et cetera, so much of it is about seeking understanding. And that I believe, is where a leader must bring their curiosity to the table. You already talked about vulnerability. So humility I think is a big aspect, a big factor or characteristic of great leaders. But another one is curiosity.


(16:47):

And so if you can be really curious with the people around you to seek to understand them, to understand where they're coming from, what they uniquely bring to the table, then I think that's what it takes to create this environment of psychological safety. It's that root of curiosity because if there isn't that curiosity there, then the need or the desire to understand others doesn't show up because we're seeking to be understood first as opposed to understanding others first.


Andy Goram (17:20):

I so love that. And I think that is potentially an underutilized word when it comes to effective leadership as well about being curious. Too many guys, leaders, walk into that room meeting, whatever it is, and the first thing that comes out of their mouth is that, here's my idea, what do you reckon? And they've just basically shut down half the room most likely, unless you've got an incredible backdrop to that team where you're really happy to openly challenge that leader.


(17:53):

And yet, I think some of the best people I've ever worked for were the ones who would come in maybe precis a topic and then just sit back and go, so what do you think? And they would listen to everybody around that table. And they may not have the same perspective as those people, they may not have the same ideas as those people, but everybody got a view, everybody got a say and everybody got a chance to think and question and support what was being said.


(18:26):

At the end of the day though, that leader, and I've seen that in male and female leaders, I've worked with some fantastic people, they would be the ones to kind of make the call. But that wasn't a problem for us in a team because we'd had that opportunity. We'd had all that kind of dialogue. And it's actually quite empowering for the rest of the team. Even if you don't get your way for someone to sort of grip it and go, "Okay, cool. We've had a chat, we've listened to it all. Here's now what I think, and this is now what we're going to do. Discuss." That's an empowering environment to work in. That's what we want.


Stephan Wiedner (18:59):

I can't agree more. You said it perfectly. I believe when you feel heard and understood, then you're okay with whatever decision gets made, right? Because you don't feel like your concerns or issues have been just ignored or swept under the rug. And that's really empowering. And I think following that discussion, those individuals within that team can also have empathy for that leader. Recognizing, making the call, making that decision is not easy. And there's a lot of mutual respect there. You heard us all out and we now recognize that you still need to make the call, and that's not easy, and you don't necessarily have 100% complete information, and yet you still have to make the call because that's what a leader's job is. And sometimes that's not easy. That's definitely not easy.


The Importance of Psychological Safety in Firefighting

Andy Goram (19:55):

It's not. And look, that's just around a board table, in business. What I'm really curious to understand from your perspective and maybe what conscious bearing the work you're doing now has had is this firefighter thing, this volunteer firefighter role that you play, Stephan. How did that come about? We was that a thing always as a kid, you had a red fire engine and you thought, you know what, I'm going to be a firefighter one day and you've living out your dream? How did this all come about? I'm asking so many questions. I'm really not a very good host, but you get my drift. Where'd it come from my friend?


Stephan Wiedner (20:33):

I get your drift. Yeah, thank you for the curiosity that you're demonstrating. It was definitely not a lifelong dream of mine. That is for sure the case. I live in Canada, so I live in the Okanagan Valley. The Okanagan Valley, I like to call it the Napa Valley of Canada. So if you're familiar with the Napa Valley in California. And so I live in a semi-rural community with lots of vineyards all around me, and so that helps maybe paint the picture. And there's maybe 2000 residents in our little community. It's about a 10-minute drive into town where there's 35,000 people residing. So we're not totally in the sticks, if you will.


(21:16):

And yet we are this small little community, and we moved here because it's very picturesque and it's right on the lake. And as soon as we moved here, we immediately felt this sense of community and started to get to know our neighbors and so on. And then there was a call for more volunteers, for volunteer firefighters. I thought, what the heck? I'm relatively young, I'm relatively fit and I can serve my community. It never had crossed my mind. And so I've been doing that now for about eight years, and it's just been a really great experience because I've always loved being part of a close-knit team.


(21:59):

And we have a really great team in our fire department. We have fantastic leadership. We have a really diverse group. At one point in time, I think we were almost one to one. For every male, we had a female. And young and old, we have. I think our eldest member is maybe 73, and he doesn't do a whole lot of firefighting anymore, but he sure is great at operating the big pump because it's a technical piece of equipment. And he also does all the bookkeeping and financing. And then we have our youngest member might be I think 26. And everything in between. It's just a really great group of people to have a shared commitment for our community with.


Andy Goram (22:47):

And I'm curious to understand, because I said in the intro that if ever there was going to be a team, if ever there was going to be a genre of work where something like psychological safety was A1 needed and expected, because I suspect some of the things that you go through, if you are not fully confident that everybody's got each other's back and is coming at this inside of one team, but also open to discuss and critique the approach to things and what's happened, then firefighting has to be up there. Is that true? In this particular case, was there a ton of psychological safety that you walked into? Has it been something that's grown over time? Tell me, what's happened?


Stephan Wiedner (23:33):

Yeah. Well, psychological safety is definitely one of the things I tell organizations, it's not something you buy and you put on your shelf, right? "Yay, we have it."

Andy Goram (23:45):

Job done.


Stephan Wiedner (23:46):

"It's job done. Bought the book, put it on the shelf, we now have it. Yay!" It is always changing. And with a volunteer group, we have new members joining every year. Usually we have somewhere between one and four new volunteer members that join. And for that first year, they're really just learning the ropes before they become a full member. And of course, one or two people leaving every year. And psychological safety has, I'd say gone up and down. There have been incidences that have caused some people to be upset and feel disrespected or unappreciated, and then we've worked it through and then felt great.


(24:33):

And so it really kind of ebbs and flows. I'd say when I first started, there seemed to be a lot more tension maybe between members that hadn't been properly addressed. I don't know all the stories, I don't know all the history because I was new, but there was members that had been part of the department for 25, 30 years, so long time membership. And I guess maybe the safest way to describe it is there was maybe an in-crowd and an out-crowd or the old guard and the new guard and maybe they didn't always agree. And so there's that, well, this is the way we've always done it, and maybe these kind of differing opinions and differing strategies and ideas around how to run the department and how things ought to be done.


(25:20):

And I definitely don't see that anymore. I think it's a much more cohesive unit. We have, like I said, fantastic leadership and I think they've done a great job of trying to address any personality differences, knowing that there are absolutely going to be personality differences. With a department that's so diverse, you see that will happen. And we've seen that happen. So it's just a matter of making room for that and allowing conversation to help facilitate a better outcome whenever there is that difference of opinion or difference of personality.


The Intentionality of Psychological Safety

Andy Goram (25:58):

And do you think going forward, this is now something that has become an intentional focus, like a conscious focus of the team, of the group to ensure that everybody feels like they're in that right environment, that those mistakes of the past don't happen anymore. And if it is a more intentional, conscious thing, are there any specific things that you're doing to make sure that, that environment is constant and always kind of front of mind?


Stephan Wiedner (26:28):

I think the culture within firefighting overall is probably moving in that direction. And I would point perhaps to the research and the work that's being done around PTSD, because of course as firefighters, we see some gruesome events and you never know how one event might affect you. And so while everybody in the department except one feels like, well, that was no big deal, that one person needs to have the space to be able to voice their concerns. And after I wouldn't say every incident, but certainly any incident where there's injury or significant injury or maybe even death, we do a really good job of debriefing and making space for everybody to be able to voice what it is that they experienced. And then we also follow up with one-on-one support. So we're very active in terms of just checking in with one another and "Hey, how you doing? Hey, come on over, let's grab a coffee", that kind of thing. Just that informal camaraderie goes a really long way.


(27:38):

And I think once upon a time it was more of a macho man club and we're just going to whip back a handful of beers after a tough night and call it a night. That is not a good strategy for improving mental health when there's significant trauma there that you've witnessed or observed. So I'd point to that research, which I think, that work that's being done there and how it's really making it okay for conversation around your feelings and conversation around how certain events are interpreted differently by different people.


Where Is Psychological Safety Headed?

Andy Goram (28:24):

Yeah. That comes back to some of that vulnerability piece, right? It's feeling safe, feeling okay, feeling confident to sort of say, do you know I'm not feeling too great about what's just happened and not feeling like you're going to get judged for sure. And do you know what, I can really understand that in a firefighting perspective, and I love the way you described the intentionality of that sort of approach within that team. And we're not dealing with the gruesomeness of some of the things that you have to see, but do you see the parallels in the workplace, I guess in the sort of regular workplace that you've seen in firefighting? Have you seen a change with a focus on psychological safety? Do you think we're just at the start of this journey? What do you see at the moment, Stephan, in the work that you are doing?


Stephan Wiedner (29:15):

Yeah. Well, I definitely think that we're moving toward a more psychologically safe work environment, absolutely. With things like, for example, at the beginning, COVID, right, the Black Lives Matter, and these sorts of movements I think really helped certain populations feel like their voice does matter and that they can speak up. Interestingly, our definition for psychological safety that we use within our training is it's the courage to speak up and the confidence to know you'll be heard. And so interestingly, those who find themselves protesting, sure they have the courage to speak up, but I don't think they're always feeling heard and understood and appreciated. And we talked at length about that, feeling understood.


(30:04):

That's a really important aspect to psychological safety. And I think in general, we're moving in that direction. There's much more curiosity and interest for other people and their experiences. There's much more room for that at work. And I think that's a fantastic movement in the positive direction. Of course, it's not always present. There are definitely pockets where that isn't necessarily as well embraced or it's not even that... there's a difference between encouraging diversity, and then there's the opposite of that, which is discouraging diversity or encouraging uniformity. But there's also that kind of middle ground where you're not necessarily proactive in one way or the other.


(30:59):

But I think to be inclusive, you need to be proactive about it. It's not enough to just say, "Well, I didn't steal anything today, so therefore I'm a good human being." But, yeah, well, were you generous in any way, right? We want to look at just the positives as opposed to the avoidance of the bad.


Research Into The Importance of Interpersonal Skills with Psychological Safety

Andy Goram (31:18):

You see, I find that really interesting because I think, and lots of people call them soft skills, and I'm not a fan of soft skills as a phrase, as anybody who listens to this podcast knows, I prefer to use the term human skills, but I think it is these human skills that are sometimes overlooked. And I'm really interested in the research work that you're going to be undertaking with Professor Amy Edmondson. And you are looking at this link between these perhaps forgotten, taken for granted, interpersonal skills and psychological safety. So tell us a bit more about that, where's that come from and what you are hoping to find, and yeah, tell us a bit more.


Stephan Wiedner (32:04):

Yeah, so I also have an aversion towards the term soft skills because-


Andy Goram (32:11):

Yay, thank you.


Stephan Wiedner (32:11):

And maybe for different reasons, I don't like the word soft skills because I think they're far more concrete and tangible than perhaps we're willing to see it.


Andy Goram (32:24):

So true.


Stephan Wiedner (32:27):

So here's what we're doing with the research project. We are correlating or looking at the correlation between a manager's interpersonal skills and their team's sense of psychological safety. So those are the two things that we're going to be measuring. And all we're trying to see is there a correlation there? And our hypothesis is that there is, and we're drawing on work that's been done in the world of counseling.


(32:54):

In the world of counseling, they have long been asking the question, what makes an effective counselor and how and why does counseling work? And what the research has discovered is that the best therapists, the best counselors, the best healers, and they've looked at multiple different disciplines so not just counselors, but social workers and Shaman and religious leaders, these are all healers, they help people improve their outcomes, and there's good ones and there's bad ones. And you can assess them based on their client outcomes.


(33:35):

And what they've discovered is that all the best, so doesn't matter what type of helper you are, the best helpers all have the high level of interpersonal skills. And these were measured using a performance-based task, which I think is such a fascinating aspect to that research that was done back in about 2007, 8 9. I think the paper was published in 2009 by Tim Anderson at the Ohio State University.


(34:08):

And what Tim did is he thought, okay, well, what we're going to do is we're going to expose counselors to challenging moments within a counseling environment. And so they had actors depicting these challenging scenarios. They were actual scripts from real live scenarios that occurred within counseling, and they exposed counselors to those clips and assessed them for eight dimensions of these interpersonal skills that they're measuring, which they called facilitative interpersonal skills. So FIS.


(34:40):

And those eight when they were scored were predictive of client outcomes. And what's so fascinating about it is I believe they initially had four clips. So these are four clips that are all under a minute and a half. I think they're 30 seconds to 90 seconds long. And the responses were all less than two minutes, and they coded those responses. So for each individual, they had at the most eight minutes worth of video data, and that video data was predictive of their client outcomes.


(35:11):

To me, that's really fascinating because what they're doing is they're testing people in those really challenging moments. Anybody can be a good counselor with a really good client. With a client that's relatively easy. So there's degrees of challenge, degrees of difficultness with clients, and the best counselors can get positive outcomes more consistently with those more challenging clients.


The 8 Dimensions of Facilitated Interpersonal Skills for Managers

(35:36):

And so our hypothesis is exactly the same for managers. It's easy to be a manager when things are going well, when you're hitting your targets, but what about when you're not hitting your targets? What about when, oh, I don't know, there's a global pandemic. How do you manage in those types of environments? And so we've created a derivative of the FIS, which we call FISM, so facilitative interpersonal skills for managers. And the FISM presents team-based scenarios, or they could be one-on-one based scenarios, but they're within a work context. And then we look to see how people respond to those.


(36:18):

And if I could add a little more specificity to the skills that we're looking for, the eight dimensions of the FIS that we're looking for are number one, verbal flow. So why are we looking at verbal flow? Verbal flow is basically how well you communicate. And when there's a lot of anxiety and stress, what happens? Your verbal flow goes down. The way your words come out of your mouth is going to be stunted a little bit, and you're going to add a lot of verbal fillers, et cetera.


(36:46):

The second is hope and positive expectation. So how are you able to generate hope and positive expectation? And a lot of hope and positive expectation is about can you demonstrate a path forward. So it's not just empty, "Rah, rah, rah, you're awesome, you're great, right?" That's empty cheerleading. You need to have a path forward like okay, folks, I know there's a challenge here and this is how we're going to resolve it. That generates hope and positive expectation.


(37:14):

The third is persuasiveness. So how well are you as a manager able to have others accept a view that's different from their own view? That requires a whole lot of understanding. And then the fourth is emotional expression. So we see this basically, this is not the words you say, but how you say them. And what we discovered, especially in the world of business, is a lot of communicators are very flat or they have very low emotional expression. Or incongruent emotional expression, we had a client who had a fantastic smile and would be smiling when someone's expressing a death in the family, right? It's incongruous. So emotional expression.


(38:02):

The fifth is acceptance and understanding. That points to the diversity and inclusion and acceptance, that acceptance piece. So how judgmental are you when others are different or expressing ideas that you don't agree with? The sixth is empathy. So to what degree can you demonstrate to others that you understand their situation? And I'm going to pause there just for a second, Andy, because I want to check in with you because I've been sort of speaking and there's a lot of information there.


Andy Goram (38:34):

Yeah, that's great.


Stephan Wiedner (38:34):

We just reviewed six of eight. And what I'm hoping you're listening for is if you just think about a manager or a leader, do you think all of these things that I mentioned thus far are valuable skills to possess?


Developing Interpersonal Skills

Andy Goram (38:50):

Oh, without a doubt. I'm fascinated because you answered the question about how you're going to measure interpersonal skills. That was my question that was buzzing around my head. How do you manage these interpersonal skills and what are we looking for? And so six of eight so far, tell me seven and eight, because I think they're all really useful. But I think these are things that's just taken for granted in one big lump.

"Can you engage and talk to people? Oh, good, brilliant."

(39:15):

No, this is really interesting. The specificity behind it is fascinating because that's a proper training program. You don't get a body building kind of plan, it's just go and lift some weights. There's specific muscle groups you've got a kind of exercise to come back to your piece about training.

The specificity of the eight dimensions, "Well, I got to go and exercise a bit more on that. Yeah, I'm pretty good at that, but I'm awful at that. Let me going to tune into that one." I love it. Great.

Stephan Wiedner (39:44):

Yeah. I love the parallel to weightlifting, because you can have a parallel to all sorts of different things where especially sports or music, where we have been doing those things for a long time and we've broken down the skills. So when you go to the gym, you know you're going to work on your biceps, then your triceps, then your quads, whatever. You break it down into the individual components. And so you're right, that's exactly the way we do our training is we break the skills down and you practice them one at a time because that's the way you do it in sports. That's the way you do it in music. No one says, "Okay, go play Bach now!" You got to learn the scales, you got to learn the chords, everything like that on the piano before you can play some masterful piece of music. So we want to do the same thing.


(40:34):

And that's what we're doing in our training. So I'll talk about seven and eight because I think they're really critical. Seven is alliance capacity. So it's basically like collaborativeness. It's this we language. So are you pointing to the interrelationship between the different parties of the team and also maybe your team and the other teams in the organization. And then the last one, which I think may be the most important one, is interpersonal responsiveness.


(41:09):

So this is basically how do you approach, and do you even approach a rupture or a potential breakdown? And that's really critical because when there are difficult and challenging moments, what you don't want is, "Wow! That was really uncomfortable, can we just move on?" Or often what we see is a really strong desire for managers to move things offline. Like, "Whoa! I think we better call time out here and I'm going to have a conversation with one or two of you."


(41:46):

And that will leave the other rest of the team kind of going, "Well, that was really awkward or really uncomfortable. I saw, I noticed, why is this not being addressed right now?" And so that interpersonal responsiveness might be the real key. So if you score high in your interpersonal responsiveness, you likely score higher on all the other dimensions.


(42:08):

And I think you asked a question there, Andy, which is, how do we measure these things? And we have human coders who are trained to look for these eight dimensions and evaluate them. And we have multiple raters that are going to be rating every single manager because we're looking for a really high level of inter-rater reliability. I see in the very near future, Andy, with the advancement of artificial intelligence, that computers will be able to do this, and of course computers will be able to do it much more consistently.


(42:43):

So with human raters, obviously your perspective is going to be different from mine and hopefully that our inter-rater reliability is relatively high, but with a computer, it should be the same every single time. If you give them the same stimulus, it should give you the same score again and again and again.


Andy Goram (43:00):

Fascinating. I'm really interested to see what comes out of this. I would love it if you could come back when the results are in and you can tell us a story of what you found and what surprised you and what you were expecting and this sort of reaffirmed what you believe. I think that would be a fascinating thing to see. Unbelievable to me. And I always say this, we don't have a lot of time left on this episode, and yet my brain's going to be going 10 to the dozen after this finishes, I just know it.


Episode Takeaways - Sticky Notes

(43:30):

Stephan, we've come to the bit in the show I like to call sticky notes where I'm looking for you to try and summarize a few things. So on the subject of improving the psychological safety at work, if you could give my listeners three bits of advice that we could stick on three little sticky notes, what information would you share, Stephan, what advice would you leave us with?


Stephan Wiedner (43:55):

The first is, I think the easiest is to just observe. Observe your team, observe yourself. Notice what topics you might want to avoid. What are the situations that cause you to maybe remain quiet? Like for example, if you're the manager and you need to do one-on-ones and start talking about people's annual salaries, does that make you really uncomfortable to start talking about money and finance and ugh? Just notice. That's it. That's all you have to do is just start to notice what types of topics or what types of scenarios might cause you to feel that internal discomfort.


(44:41):

The second thing is be curious, right? We talked a decent amount about that. So just be curious. Try to make no assumptions when interacting with others, and instead bring that curiosity hat. Pretend like you don't know anything and just get curious with folks.


(45:00):

And the third, I think the third that seems so easy, but is maybe forgotten, is take people for coffee, have informal chats. Just get to know people. And the more you do that, the more their guard is going to come down, the more they're going to be willing to share. Because if you're willing to hear about how their weekend went and how their five-year-old is playing soccer, and if you could be curious about that, then I think you can be curious about just about anything. And they'll be more likely to share openly with you, and that will foster psychological safety.


Andy Goram (45:44):

I think that's great. And we forget sometimes the genuine simplicity of some of this stuff. We try and over-engineer and overwork stuff, but at the end of the day, just be a good person. Get to know someone genuinely, and listen and respond. Brilliant. Stephan, I have absolutely loved having you on the show. I've really enjoyed our conversation, and genuinely I would love it if you'd consider coming back when you found your results. That'd be amazing.


Stephan Wiedner (46:09):

I'd be happy to share. Who knows what we're going to discover. Hopefully it's positive, but we also see this as really just the tip of the iceberg. I think there's so much more research to be had because yeah, our hypothesis is that managers will lead to greater levels of psychological safety. But there's another hypothesis that we have, which is maybe it's the lowest rung on the ladder, so to speak.


(46:31):

Because I've been on numerous teams and I've coached hockey, for example, with youth sports, and I remember one year I had this one kid on the team who was just a pain in the neck, right? He caused me some real headaches, and I think I managed it quite well in the end, but at the same time, it's like, ugh. So maybe it's the lowest rung on the ladder. Again, we're just scraping the surface. I think we have so much more work to do. And then of course, if we can show correlation, we would want to show causation. So can we improve interpersonal skills and then therefore improve psychological safety? Much more work to be done, Andy.


Andy Goram (47:10):

Much more work to be done. That's a whole nother episode, my friend, a whole nother episode. Listen, thank you so much for joining me. It's been fantastic, and I can't wait to speak to you again soon. Take care, my friend.


Stephan Wiedner (47:22):

Thank you, Andy.


Andy Goram (47:24):

Okay, everybody, that was Stephan Wiedner. And if you'd like to find out a more about him or any of the things we've talked about in today's episode, please check out the show notes.


(47:37):

So that concludes today's episode. I hope you've enjoyed it, found it interesting, and heard something maybe that will help you become a stickier, more successful business from the inside going forward. If you have, please like, comment, and subscribe. It really helps. I'm Andy Goram, and you've been listening to The Sticky From The Inside Podcast. Until next time, thanks for listening.


Andy Goram is the owner of Bizjuicer, an employee engagement and workplace culture consultancy that's on a mission to help people have more fulfilling work lives. He's also the host of the Sticky From The Inside Podcast, which talks to experts on these topics from around the world.


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