What’s the Buzz? — Why Beaver Ate Owl (and other stories).

In my last article I explored the question: “What is psychological safety?” as it not only a recent buzzword being bandied about, but something that, counter-intuitively, we see far less of these days. One would think that societies, corporations, and governments would become better at bringing out the best in their people and teams, but sadly, this is not the case. From the senate to the schoolyard, bullying has increased, and the notion of psychological safety seems like a hippie relic from the 60’s.

But the freedom to make mistakes is critical to any innovative process — we know that. In fact, no prototype ever emerged without it. Psychological safety is more than this, though. We need to feel at ease enough to be ourselves, ask questions, and be vulnerable without fear of negative consequences.

I was asked to go into a bit more detail with regard to two main questions in particular: 1) How can we identify other personality types in our colleagues to help provide them with psychological safety; 2) Tell us more about the four “personality families”. THANKS FOR ASKING!

I suggested that people spend a few weeks listening in more closely to the “non-business” conversation: water cooler, coffee room, greetings and general chatter. There are likely some patterns you can detect by attending not only to WHAT people are saying, but what the words serve to accomplish or DO within the meeting.

This will help you realize that there are differences between what people DO and what they SAY (I’m not talking about broken promises). What people say and do are the two most fundamental parts of life, and understanding what motivates people in both cases can be a game-changer for those of us who are in the business of encouraging others to try something new.

Some people’s conversations are primarily about external, down-to-earth, concrete subjects (this will be the majority of people – so likely you!). Others gravitate more toward conversations that are abstract, theoretical, unobservable and internal — less than 20% of the population. Everyone does both at times, of course, so be wary of jumping to conclusions. But basically, some people talk mostly about WHAT IS, and others talk mostly about WHAT’S POSSIBLE.

Reflect on this based on your own preferred style. It becomes tedious and even exhausting to stick to the disfavoured mode for long periods of time. It can also be awfully isolating to be in the minority – and you may feel, or be made to feel, that your point of view is wrong.

Now think about what people tend to DO. In going about their work, some people think first of doing what is effective and what gets results (less than 45%). What is aggravating for the majority of people is that these folks won’t really mind if they are obeying the rules, following set procedure, or keeping within rules or codes. They just do WHAT WORKS. The majority of people focus on doing WHAT’S RIGHT.

SO… “How to provide psychological safety”? The answer is: It depends on who you’re dealing with. And this gets more complicated when you extend it to a group of mixed personalities, ages, genders, ethnicities … and status within the group.

The answers to the questions:

1) Know thyself first. You can provide others with psychological safety better by understanding your own preferred style of SAYING AND DOING … and that for someone else, these very things may stress them out. What role in the team do they have? Your boss or your report? The one who is responsible for logistics or the one who invents? Are the right people in the right roles? What about you?

2) The four personality families. Think of them as Foxes (35%), Beavers (45%), Dolphins (10%), and Owls (10%). Foxes and Owls do whatever works. Beavers and Dolphins do what’s right. But … Foxes and beavers talk about what is … and Owls and Dolphins talk about what’s possible. Generally, Owls and Beavers have a tough time together (so your innovators want to strangle your rule-keepers and vice-versa); and your Foxes and Dolphins are likely not having much water-cooler time (the Foxes think the Dolphins are silly and the Dolphins think the Foxes are purely ego-driven).

The best way to provide psychological safety is to understand your own strengths and weaknesses; learn to leverage your strengths, and manage your behaviours.

Are you interested in learning more about your leadership style and how to better manage and motivate your groups? Please get in touch — I would love to help. I would be very grateful if you would share the article and its authorship wherever you may find it appropriate.

Have a productive week! -Anna