Old Dogs and New Tricks

I’m a full blown AARP-eligible 56 year old woman, and in my twenties and thirties at work there were men older than me who referred to me as, “kid” or “sweetie”, or “hon”. Maybe they knew no better at that time; but I do remember how those words made me feel.

Dismissed. Less than. Unworthy. Under their thumb.

I don’t think these guys had bad intentions, but most of the mistakes we make in life can be considered “innocent”. It’s not about the “terms of endearment” they selected, but to me it felt like they were asserting the upper hand. And they were, but without realizing it.

This perceived upper hand only perpetuated a young woman’s doubts, and coupled with other dominant behaviors in meetings did not create an environment where I felt respected or listened to.

I don’t tell this story to play victim or to incite a rally cry, but I tell it to try to explain why words and behaviors matter. If psychological safety is not present and practiced, then the workplace is not healthy.

I take full responsibility for my inability at that time not to speak up for myself; it is a character curse I still work on to this day, and I know I am not alone by any stretch. It is a vicious cycle of self-doubt and resentment when you do not have the courage to express yourself.  

What is Psychological Safety?

In this article by Amy Edmondson, the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School, psychological safety is the belief that one can speak up without risk of punishment or humiliation.       

The interpretation of “feeling humiliated” or feeling a “risk of punishment” is subjective, right? So the onus is on each and every one of us to gain self-awareness, speak up for ourselves, and always read the room.

We need to own our “beefs” and ask ourselves, “How am I interpreting this situation?” “What do I need right now to feel heard?” “How can I muster the courage to speak up?”

Creating psychological safety is a lifelong practice and there is a lot of talk about it in the context of work. The solution is not simple, but the simple acknowledgement that is IS A THING is a good place to start.

Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, which gathered so much attention that she put her observations into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

When I read this article I observed something:

THREE OF THE FIVE regrets of the dying have to do with psychological safety.

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  3. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

These three wishes can all be attributed to them not feeling safe, for whatever the reason was.

When you think you will be humiliated/embarrassed/unwanted/judged for the way you feel, or for what you want, and instead succumb to what is expected of you, you are not psychologically safe.

What is Laudable Learning?

Laudable Learning is dedicated to bringing an awareness of wellbeing to the workplace that is now a business imperative. eLearning does not have to put you to sleep. The old days of boring corporate training are over, and it is time to experience film based episodes that create empathy and action. Healthy people make healthy organizations.

Choosing to Improve

My people skills have never been tested so hard as being a parent to a 17 year old daughter. Kids are smart – they always have been – but hopefully now we are listening to them better. I hope we are giving them some psychological safety to be able to express themselves, and be themselves without feeling humiliation or risk of punishment.

In the workplace, if you don’t start with yourself, and you continue to believe it’s the people around you who “need to change”, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment, frustration and turnover.

The 80’s and 90’s were the 80’s and 90’s, and when I think back on some of the inexcusable, reprehensible, embarrassing behavior I experienced in the workplace, I forgive them. It’s now 2022 and it’s time for everyone to take a long look in the mirror and ask, “How am I creating a place where everyone feels safe and accepted? Including myself.”

You can teach an old dog new tricks.