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Perfectly Imperfect: How to Unhook Your Perfectionism From Your Business – and Health

This blog isn’t perfect.

And I actually wouldn’t want it to be.

It’s not that I don’t want to send out my absolute best to you every month – I do. But my best is more than a nicely worded, grammatically correct, insightful and thought-provoking blog.

My best is also balance. It’s detaching from the critic (inner or otherwise), letting go of what people might think, and just GOING FOR IT. My best self is an imperfect one, and my best work comes from acknowledging that.

So this month, I’m here to convince you that we’ve got to let go of perfectionism before we can even think of achieving balance in our life.

“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be our best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth; it’s a shield.”
~Brene Brown

What are you shielding yourself from?

So many of my clients are talking with me about perfectionism – whether they’ve realized it or not. The need to get everything just right before moving forward or making a decision is having a huge impact on their lives and businesses.

They need to be putting themselves and their work out there. That’s when we get the feedback that helps us improve, iterate, or make a course correction.

It may feel like a perfect product or plan is the key to success and security. Who could criticize your best work? If you put all your effort into perfecting your business plan, how could it fail?

And yet, perfectionism keeps us playing small. We’re polishing endlessly instead of being vulnerable and putting what we’re working on out there.

There’s a lot that can drive that, but at the heart of it is usually some fear. Fear of failure, fear of criticism, fear of embarrassment. Even my most capable, most successful leaders get trapped here. It’s not based on their past performance or experiences. No one around them would share these expectations or fears.

These are very much internalized and accepted self-doubts.

“Perfectionism is a commitment to habitual self-doubt.”
~Prentis Hemphill

It may be “perfect,” but it’s not healthy

All that doubt and fear takes a toll.

It certainly holds back business and progress but there’s a mental weight as well.

There’s increasing research showing that your mental health is intertwined with your relationship to perfectionism. The BBC dug into it all just a couple years ago, and summed it up with this:

“Many of us believe perfectionism is a positive. But researchers are finding that it is nothing short of dangerous, leading to a long list of health problems – and that it’s on the rise.”

I have one client who is a living example of this trend. When he needs to end a business relationship – parting ways with a client or not renewing a contract – he experiences so much anxiety about the break up call he’s in physical pain.

Stomachaches, and migraines – it’s all-consuming.

And ultimately, when he does have a professional conversation that includes referrals to another business to take them on, these clients THANK HIM.

No yelling. No shame. No accusations. Just a professional and productive parting of ways.

But you can bet that if the mental anguish leading up to the call is enough to make him sick then it’s also leaving a mark somewhere.

Lucky for him, he’s done the work to unhook from perfectionism. He has clarity on his business, his goals, and how he’ll operate. It’s a positive for everyone involved.

 

Perfectionism’s enemy: Boundaries

Boundaries and perfectionism find it hard to co-exist. And you know how I feel about the necessity of boundaries for, among other things, work-life balance. (Hint: you need clear and compassionate boundaries!)

Perfectionism has us dropping boundaries. When our drive is to be perfect, everything else falls away. Perfect takes sacrifice, commitment, and anything less than 100% means failure.

When perfectionism has us showing up you can assume there is always a trade off. We’re showing up as someone other than we are – because no one is perfect.

The Joneses may look like they’ve got it all figured out: perfect family, perfect jobs, perfect home. But remember you’re watching their show – there is ALWAYS something on the inside that’s propping up that perfect facade.

In one house it may be debt. In another there may be weekly or nightly fights. In another there may be true and deep mental anguish pushed down below the surface – or a million other issues could be brewing.

And that’s ok – that’s their story to write. But when you get caught comparing and striving for perfect – remember what you’re seeing is just one piece of the puzzle.

So if you’re sacrificing your boundaries for the sake of keeping someone else happy, or awed by your job performance, or otherwise bending your priorities to accommodate their needs? Perfection has gone to war with your boundaries. And you have to decide how perfect – or imperfect – that feels for you.

 

Blazing a path for recovery from perfectionism

How does one transform into a recovering perfectionist? Well let me say from the start – there is no ONE PERFECT way to go about this.

Instead, consider a few of these options and how they might help you identify where you can let go of perfect in exchange for embracing authenticity and progress.

1. Pause (there’s always so much power in the pause!) and release judgment
Your perfectionism is enmeshed in judgment – maybe of yourself, maybe of others. Observe your opinion, and let it go. Don’t let your opinion of things be the lens through which you decide “what is” or “what is not.”

2. Unhook from what others think
Just like you’ve let go of your self-judgment, can you let go of your fear of others judging you? For one – they’re not. They just aren’t thinking what you think they are. And two – you’ve got to follow your goals for you – perfection won’t protect you from the (rare) naysayers.

3. Get clear on what exactly “perfect” is in your mind
● Is the work you need to do to achieve perfection adding to your life, or taking away from what or WHO is most important?
● IS perfectionism actually attainable?
● What is the tradeoff for your perfectionism? (Because there is ALWAYS a trade-off! Even if it’s not immediate and public – it’s there.)

4. Question WHY you have the drive for perfectionism – are you trying to avoid something? Prove something? And to whom? Is it serving you and your goals? Or is it a distraction?

5. Self-boundaries – you need them
Leadership starts internally. These are your habits, the promises you’re making to yourself based on your goals, not just a projection of perfection. This is self-leadership, and you’ll need to stick to your boundaries on what you’re saying you want. Think about your habits, good or bad, your triggers, and what you want your response to be. Then stick to it – without falling back on your old crutch perfectionism.

6. Accountability – it works
Ask friends to help hold you accountable – because all of us can see when our friends are stuck in perfectionism. Maybe they’re not getting things done they say they want to. A friend can say, “What’s going on for you?”
Let them hold up the mirror and tell you, “You said you were going to do this by a certain date and you’re not there. What needs to change? What’s getting in the way? What are you overthinking?”
All clients come to me for accountability. Accountability to NOT be “perfect” might sound odd – but it will work!

The upsides of “imperfection”

What’s on the other side of perfectionism? Don’t listen to your self-doubt. It’s better than you might expect.

In my experience, when my clients let go of perfect and strive for success and progress they find:
● Relief
● Better energy and time management
● Improved relationships with self and others
● Increased confidence
● Improved boundaries
● The ability to say NO
● Increase effectiveness (productivity, communication, collaboration)

Which, honestly, sounds kind of perfect, doesn’t it?

Are You Creating the Space You Need for a Summer of Freedom & Fun?

Ice cream trucks. Water slides. Fireflies and fireworks and bonfires.

Stop for a second and dream up your quintessential summer. Where in that picture did you fit in humid commutes and to-do lists longer than the longest days of the year?

I know – you don’t actually dream of those things. So instead of fitting a quick trip to the beach into a summer consumed by work, let’s talk about how to fit your work in around your fun this season.

But Lisa, You’re My BUSINESS Coach

Yup. And part of being a successful business leader is learning how to balance what is important to us in work and in life. My goal is to help you build a business that will sustain the life you want, not consume it.

So for this Fourth of July, I’m declaring our independence from the rat race.

There is ALWAYS another level, another contract, another client. I’ve been there with my foot on the gas, fully in pedal-to-the-metal mode with summer in the rearview mirror before I registered it had started.

So rather than staying blindly on the path to “more,” (which we know is not sustainable,) I’m going to challenge you to get clear on how you want to prioritize fun in the next 8 weeks.

I’ll go first.

In The Summertime, When The Weather Is Hot…

I make sure to dig into summer as soon as the weather turns from frost to sunshine here in Vermont – after all, it could be snowing again in a couple weeks! (Ok… maybe a couple months. But summer is fleeting, particularly here!)

To me, a summer well spent means getting outdoors, taking in concerts, and spending time with loved ones and friends.

I had a blast at the Lumineers concert with my sister just last month (and faced some of my residual COVID fears about being in a crowded space) and I’m looking forward to more music-filled evenings on the lawns together.
I’m also hoping to take some long weekends away with family and girlfriends.

And I’m lucky that even if extremely pricey flights keep me a little more local than I might otherwise be, Vermont is a beautiful state to summer in. In my garden, by a lake, on a boat – it’s all breathtaking when you stop to take it in. And I intend to do just that.

It’s a Cruel Summer (Leavin’ Me Here On My Own)

Not to get all Cat’s in the Cradle on you, but I missed a lot of summers, and I regret it.

Vermont will give me another chance at appreciating the beauty of our New England summer.

But I can’t get back the summers with my sons when they were younger.

There was one year I stood on the porch of our new house, looking at our gorgeous and expansive lawn. I realized I had missed the whole thing. My catering business was really taking off, and I was proud of it.

But I truly had barely stood in that spot all season.

Then the year I decided to transition from catering to coaching was also my son’s last summer at home. I nearly missed them all. And Vermont, in all its beauty and wonder, can’t give me another shot at that.

There were years where my sons spent time with me mostly when they worked with me. It’s not an uncommon story to grow up helping with the family business, and they learned valuable skills and saw my work ethic in action. I’m glad they did. And, they became damn fine cooks!

We did vacation, don’t get me wrong. I made sure to squeeze in our family trip to my parents’ camp most Julys, and we even brought along their friends (until spending the summer with parents and grandparents became too unbearably uncool.)

But it was a squeeze. I squeezed out every minute of productivity before, during, and after – toting my laptop along so I could keep checking off boxes and moving the business forward. I never completely disconnected, so I never completely surrendered to the magic of a summer break.

Now I look at friends and clients and I see how they’re able to shape their lives around the memories that matter – trips to the zoo, the water park, the camping trips with their kids. I didn’t create nearly enough of those experiences for myself and my kids, and I don’t have those memories now.

THAT is why I emphasize maintaining balance and getting clear on your priorities.

We’re Cool For The Summer

So here’s your shot. What can you not afford to miss this year?

1. Define your summer break
Summer was handed to us as kids. School let out, we went to camp, we biked to the town pools and lakes.

I have to push you to put a little work into your summer now, because in order to balance your business and your break, we’ve got to figure out what that break looks like.

What is really important for you to experience this summer? Is it the location, time with family, or who you spend it with? Do you want a week off completely or some well-spaced long weekends?

Whether you’re reconnecting with your kids, partner, friends… or your self, take the moment now to pause and get clear on what you want.

2. Good boundaries make great vacations
You don’t have to travel to have a vacation… staycations are super cool too and a big part of my own summer plans.

You do, however, need to unplug and set boundaries around work or other obligations.

So, commit to setting that out-of-office notice and let yourself rest. Give your loved ones, your friends, and yourself the gift of separating your vacation from your vocation.

(One of my favorite tricks, by the way, is to let AAA do the planning by using their Triptiks on a road trip. The key is to get you doing less work on vacation, not more.)

3. Connect to the importance of taking a break
It can seem like a luxury to slow down and relax, but it will, in the long run, fuel you for more energy and endurance for creating more of what you want, WHATEVER that is.

Give yourself permission to fully enjoy what’s important to you this summer!

Here’s to a summer of memories made and wishes granted.

Stay cool and let me know where the season takes you!

How to Get Clarity on Your Goals by Pausing For an Honest Mid-Year Review

It’s time: summer is around the corner, and just like students leaving school with finals completed and report cards in hand, it’s time for our own progress report. I like to treat the halfway mark of the year as our own professional midterm, of sorts. Before giving way to the social and nostalgic distraction of a summer break – take some space to pause.

I’m here, gently, lovingly, with empathetic accountability, to invite you to check in with yourself on your goals and priorities for the year.

Before you shrink in your seat or start hustling on your goals like a college student’s last all-nighter of the semester, it’s not what you think. I’m not worried about how much progress you’ve made or whether you’re on track to achieve everything you’ve laid out for yourself.

I’m here to help you ask yourself, “are my goals serving me, or am I stuck in the service of them?”

Having Goals Doesn’t Mean You’re Done with Goal-Setting

You set your goals in January – or at any other point – and you’ve been working steadily towards them all year. Progress feels good, so if you feel productive – great!

But you’re not done with the goal-setting process.

A lot can change in a few months. The last couple of years has proven that, as if it were the goal of the 2020s, to make that point for me.

So rather than barrel blindly toward a goal that feels like it was set in a different world as a different person, we’ll examine those goals periodically, adjusting the ones that need it—tossing the ones that truly no longer serve us.

I often work with clients who are caught up in a goal that no longer aligns with their priorities.

I’ll have clients who are understandably laser-focused on their bottom line, all energy committed to driving revenue. Running a small business is a high wire act at times, and that focus often means survival!

But sometimes, like one of my clients, it means overshooting your goal so far you surprise even yourself. When this particular client saw how far ahead they were on revenue, their first instinct was to keep going – the mighty dollar is a seductive pursuit.

Ultimately, when they paused to consider the options, this success and overachievement meant that this business owner finally had the freedom, cushion, and room to delegate more. That meant freeing up time for priorities that had simmered on the back burner for quite a while. It meant they could finally carve out space to begin writing the book they’d dreamed about for years.

Goal-setting is an ongoing, even circular process. It’s not a straight line from setting to achieving – authentic achievement is the result of consistent reevaluation of your priorities and the strategies you’re using to hit your benchmarks.

Consider this your invitation to take stock of where your work is taking you. It’s good to put your head down and work, to get shit done, to make things happen. But every so often, it’ll serve you to pause, look at where all that work is taking you, and make the changes to course-correct if you no longer want to go where that train is headed (or if it’s veered off course).

Keys to a Productive Review

You’re not being graded, and this isn’t being filed with HR. But you do want to be effective and gain clarity in the process of this self-reflection. No matter if you’ve met your goals or avoided them, the key here is, to be honest with yourself about what – if anything – needs to change.

Here’s some structure to help you get there:

1. Schedule It
Put time on the calendar to take stock of your progress so far. And then honor it like you would a meeting with a client. Prioritize your check-in with yourself – you deserve the attention!

2. Have an outline of what you want to cover.
You’re planning to have a conversation with yourself. You get to set the agenda, and the most valuable answers might lie behind the toughest questions.

Some of the topics and questions to consider are:

○ Start with the end in mind – what do you want to achieve (in this meeting, your business, and your personal life?)
○ What are you doing consistently that is working?
○ What are you doing inconsistently that is working?
○ What are you doing consistently that you don’t want to be doing? Can you delegate it – or plan to delegate it in the future?
○ What does success look like to you? Reconnect to this.
○ What’s weighing you down?
○ Is there anything you can simplify, delegate, or automate?

3. Reflect & Reassess
Now you have at least some of the answers from step 2. Reflecting on what they mean in total is what’s going to give you clarity.

So, overall, is the business (or career) you’re working towards going to sustain the life you want, or is it consuming it? What, if anything, do you want to change?

4. What one thing would make reaching your goals easier?
This sounds a lot like the step 2 question about delegating the things that you don’t want to be doing or could delegate. But I want you to think bigger picture here and get thinking out of the box.

For me, the one thing I need to do is make sure I include fun in my day. When I’m in full-blown hustle mode, it negatively impacts my business – and life. I am a better business owner, leader, friend, parent, and – in general – human being when I’m having some fun.

Knowing that, I make space for it, and set the hustle-bug aside without guilt or apology. Having fun is helping me achieve my goals. So it’s non-negotiable.

5. Time block your priorities
Before you adjourn your meeting with yourself, look at your calendar and schedule time to implement your insights, intentions, and goals. Know your ideal benchmarks – are they one month, three months, a year out?

If you decided you need to do more, do it with a timeline in mind, and mark it down now. Don’t hustle endlessly.

If you decided you need to do less, give yourself the permission to honor that! Have an idea of when you’re coming back to full capacity (or if you’re redefining full capacity) and schedule your next check-in with that in mind – it’s your next dedicated chance to ask yourself if you’ve made the right adjustments.

Finding Success and Ease in the Right Priorities

What if you’re worried that you’ll be called out for changing your goals, priorities, or timeline?

Don’t be.

I know, easier said than done. The F word (failure!) is always lurking in the self-doubting corner of our minds.

In the course of evaluating their goals, one of my clients realized they no longer wanted to hit their one-year commitment of going independent and quitting their full-time job. A longer timeline felt right and balanced their personal and professional priorities better. But they were really worried about what everyone would think – particularly because they had proudly shared their original goal and timeline. Friends, family, colleagues knew the track my client was on and, in some cases, were part of the plan.

When they finally mentioned that their new goal for making this huge, career-altering change was a few years out instead of months? It didn’t phase a single person. In fact, they were happy for my client and applauded the change.

And more importantly, that change brought with it joy and relief. My client told me how much lighter they felt. I saw it, their friends and colleagues saw it, and we were all happy to see how much positive impact one honest adjustment had.

You can unhook from what you think other people may think – these are your goals for YOU, not for anyone else. Your goals affect you the most… which is probably why even your closest circle of people is VERY likely to accept, respect, even celebrate your recalibration.

You know what you want and need to do. And now that your goals align with your priorities, you’ve got your roadmap to get there.

Just remember to have fun on the journey!

How Using Better Boundaries Will Improve Your Work-Life Balance

I’m going to start this month with a confession. I’ve struggled with boundaries.

Boundaries didn’t really align with how I saw myself – the businesswoman who never missed an opportunity, the mom and wife who handled it all, the friend who never said no.

But here’s the problem: that “I’ll handle it, all of it” mentality wasn’t actually aligned with my goals for myself and my business.

So I had to learn to say “no.” Or, in many cases, “not now.”

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

– Newton’s Third Law of Motion

Every time you’re saying yes to something, you’re saying no to something else. You might have learned about equal and opposite reactions in high school physics, but you can view just about any part of your life through this lens.

If you don’t believe me, take it from Oprah. She talks about why she believes the law affects everything we do physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually.

When you get honest about what you want to say yes to and what you need to say no to you’ll be able to start defining your boundaries.

That’s huge! Why?

Because boundaries are foundational. We cannot have the business or life or relationships we want without boundaries. You have to have boundaries to make an impact.

“You are not required to set yourself on fire
to keep other people warm.”

– Unknown

 

I struggled in my catering business for years because I was hesitant to say any task, deadline, or request was out of bounds.

And the biggest issue was that I wouldn’t set boundaries with myself.

In the beginning I took every job, even though my passion was in creating gorgeous hors d’oeuvres. I turned around proposals in record time, afraid to lose a potential client.
I was coming from a place of fear, necessity, and scarcity.

I assumed a good business owner replies immediately. I feared if I niched down too far I wouldn’t have enough business.

Oh, how mistaken I was.

It turned out, as long as I replied promptly to potential clients and told them when I would have an answer or proposal for them, they were more than happy to wait. (Okay, sure, some weren’t – and if there was true urgency I knew from experience I could rise to the challenge. If it was false urgency? Not my ideal client, and better for us both to find a better fit.)

And when I chose to listen to my passion and focus the business on making the most delectable bite-sized creations I could dream up?

My catering business grew ten-fold.

Take that, self-doubt.

Boundaries are about what you will do and what you won’t do, not about what other people will do and won’t.

– Yours Truly

My philosophy has always been based in accounting for your personal and professional priorities.

Boundaries are what hold the two together so we actually can incorporate and focus on both. Boundaries are the bridge between these two crucial aspects of our lives and they are what allows us to prioritize our goals, vision, and actions.

Boundaries are how we make space for each one rather than becoming overwhelmed – which is when we wind up neglecting one side.

So, how do you set effective boundaries? I thought you’d never ask.

1. Pause (of course)
There is always so much wisdom waiting in the pause.

What we say yes to and no to is creating our future. Boundaries help hold the yes’s and no’s
This pause is your chance to get clear on WHY you have the boundary. When we know why we’re saying yes or no to an opportunity (or distraction) it’s much easier to hold that boundary and not waver.stop second guessing ourselves.

2. Give the Gift of Transparency – Set Expectations
Next it’s time to set new ground rules with those around you.

You’re changing how you’re going to operate. Giving your team, colleagues, or family and friends clarity on what you’re changing gives them a chance to meet you there.

You can let the people in your life and business know, “I know I’ve always done X, but I’m realizing it’s no longer working for me. Here is what I’m willing to do,” and discuss what that looks like going forward.

But if you’ve always danced a certain dance with them and then hop off the dance floor without an explanation? That’s inviting confusion, and ultimately more conflict.

3. Don’t Over-Explain
We often feel guilty when we say no. And establishing a boundary often sounds like a no.

We feel we need to justify our choice, reasoning, and how we ruled out every option we decided not to go with.

But don’t do that.

Because one thing is sure, people don’t like change. I won’t be surprised if the person on the other end of your new boundary would rather you keep on trucking the way you have been. They might want to pressure you to stick with the status quo, or even argue with you about your decision.

The less you say, the less they have to argue about.

It is your responsibility to state your boundaries in a clear, effective, direct, and respectful manner. It is NOT your responsibility to manage how the other person reacts.

Explaining every detail only makes it easier to be ‘thrown’ off balance by their reaction … then we wind up changing our minds in the moment.

4. The Toddler Effect
This one’s not pretty or pleasant, but it’s easier to be prepared for it.
That person who didn’t love your boundary and wanted to argue about it in step 3? They might not take your clarity as their final answer. They liked the original dance you were dancing, and they’d like to draw you back on the floor.

If this is the case, they will more than likely ‘push’ you. Sometimes lightly, sometimes with a bit of a strong-arm approach, they will try to move you back to how you’ve always ‘shown up’ in the relationship.

It’s a lot like a toddler testing a parent. When a young child wants something – say, a candy bar in the grocery store – first they ask. After a no, maybe they start whining. After another no, maybe you’ve got a tantrum on your hands. And if you still hold out? Well, now it’s time for that ear-piercing shriek that has always worked before.

But you have clarity about your goals, because you used the pause to consider what you want. You know why you’re saying yes or no to this dance. And you’re prepared for the proverbial (or maybe literal…) tantrum.

So even though this person in your life is testing your boundary, you’re able to provide the stability of a clear and unwavering response. And like a toddler, they will eventually grow out of this tantrum phase.

When you’re being tested, I invite you to try this approach:

5. Say, “Can you get back to me on that?”
Yup. Put the ball back in their court. They’re asking you for something. Make them make it easier on you.

If someone wants your advice or insight but isn’t willing to send a bullet list of what they want to talk about, don’t book the call.

When you put the onus back on them it gives you the space to step back so you’re not asking yourself, “why did I say yes to that?”

You’re building in a chance to pause here. And by pausing you can take the time to make sure this request connects to your goals and priorities.

Be intentional in what you are saying yes to and no to… and remember each is creating your future.

And because I know it will eventually come up: If they push you for an answer quickly, then say, “If you need an answer right now, it will need to be no.”

You are entitled to your pause, your priorities, and your boundaries!

3 Ways Psychological Safety Improves Creativity, Communication, and Culture

Has this latest trend made it to your business’s doorstep yet?

It’s a good one, and packs some serious heft.

“Psychological safety” – the new buzzword for leaders and individuals looking to work better, smarter, more creatively, and without toxicity. (That toxicity, thankfully, is under a well-deserved microscope thanks in part to the Great Resignation – and psychological safety is part of the recipe for the antidote.)

Sounds great, right… but what is it? And how do you know if it’s present?

It’s simpler to recreate how it felt when you likely didn’t have psychological safety. Think about a time in your career when you had to make a manager aware of a problem at work. Maybe something wasn’t working as planned, a deadline was about to be missed, or a serious issue was getting overlooked. Maybe some part of that was even your fault. 

How did you feel just before you told them?

Did you worry that you’d be blamed, that someone would be angry with you, that there’d be fallout that was anything but focused on solving the problem?

That was the utter opposite of psychological safety. And even if you were brave enough to face it, can you imagine how often others are not? Fear of failure is paralyzing… and by trying to avoid or postpone it, we actually cement it. 

The gift, now, is that you have the opportunity to cultivate psychological safety for your team, even if you were “brought up” in an environment where the opposite was the status quo.

 

So what is psychological safety?

Psychological safety is the sense that any of your team members can speak up without fear. It is permission for candor, disagreement, and risk-taking. 

It is the space to try something, because mistakes and failures are dealt with professionally and proportionately. 

It is about separating anyone’s self-worth from the company’s success or failure. Every contributor still owns their performance, but they won’t be made to feel that their performance at work is the definition of their entire being. 

It also is about embracing authenticity. In an environment where the team fears ridicule, individualism and new ideas are squashed for fear of not fitting in. When feedback and contributions are evaluated on their individual merits you’re encouraging those out-of-the-box ideas that might not otherwise be shared. Authenticity means being vulnerable, and to be vulnerable one generally needs to feel safe. 

It’s also important to understand what psychological safety is NOT. 

It’s not:

    • Hand-holding and “participation trophies” 
    • Always being nice
    • Evading discomfort
    • Lack of accountability

In fact, psychological safety should actually INCREASE accountability; when you have a team that is rewarded for owning mistakes and shortcomings, when that team is dedicated to identifying and solving issues – you are encouraging ownership, problem solving, and thinking outside of the box. 

 

Why is psychological safety so important?

Hopefully the basic tenets that make up psychological safety already sound appealing. But we can build a better case for doing this work to create this environment.

Professional permission to take a risk lets your team know they have the support of the business. Everyone is invested – with agreement at every level that the upsides of the bets we’re collectively taking outweigh the risks of occasional failures. As a result, employees feel secure in taking a swing at their big idea. And businesses see increasing benefits of investing in that security as employees hit bigger and bigger successes. 

When you have the security to disagree, everyone benefits from the progress and collaborative solutions that can only be attained with open and honest feedback.

When you have space to fail, your entire team has leeway to get creative and think outside the box.

The leaps forward for your company won’t come from safely standing still. 

Admitting that there are things to learn encourages a team to seek out that learning. 

All of this creates an environment where everyone on the team has a sense of ownership, mutual respect, and knows that their input is valued. You’re fostering engagement. You’re rewarding those who bring their passion to their work. You’re getting so much more than you would from disengaged employees – those who give their time, but not much more. 

 

I’m in. How do I build psychological safety in my workplace?

 

1. Start with the end in mind

To create a culture that has a basis in psychological safety, you have to understand what you want your company culture to look like. This is the foundation, the underpinning of everything. In life and in business. 

Just like with creating a business plan so you can achieve your goals, you need to know what you want your culture to be and why you’re pursuing a safe environment – one that fosters engagement, collaboration, creativity; one that celebrates success and learns openly from failure. 

Create this with intention, and ask yourself: 

        • What does a culture of engagement look like to you? 
        • How are people contributing, collaborating? 
        • What do you want, need, or expect from an engaged & collaborative team? 
        • What is the end result you’d like from a more engaged team and what one thing, if done consistently, would allow you to get there?

If you want a culture, and team, who freely engage, collaborate, and create fearlessly, you need to have a clear intention for how YOU will show up each day to focus on and create that culture. 

 

2. Master your mindset and harness your authentic awkward self 

One of the biggest steps you can take to unilaterally promote a psychologically safe environment is very simple… and yet for some, very hard. 

Be yourself. 

Your authentic, awkward, odd, self. 

It doesn’t just feel real-er. “Fitting in” limits growth and innovation. We’re driving so hard at risk taking and creativity. What is creative about being cookie cutter business-casual automatons? Where is the risk (and reward) in being just like everyone else?

Bringing our authentic awkward self to work helps you build a life and business that’s fulfilling and doesn’t consume you. Stop pretending so hard, and start embracing your real self – even if she’s a little nutty sometimes! 

When you show up as who you are on the outside, you invite others to show up as who they are, too. You give them a chance to really see you and trust you. 

What you’re being on the outside – authentically awkward, with a dose of vulnerability – is what your team, colleagues, friends, kids, etc, are being on the inside. They want to bring their authentic awkwardness out…and they need a safe place to do so.  

When they see you doing it, it gives them permission and safety to show up as a whole person, not just the bits and pieces they think they need to be in order to belong and connect.

If this all feels very trendy and new, consider that Maslow essentially made this point for us in his hierarchy of needs. After your physiological needs (food, water) and physical safety are met, the next step on the hierarchy is belonging. 

Note that it’s not “fitting in,” but a true sense of belonging and connection in your relationships. It’s only when you have that sense of authentically belonging that you can move up the pyramid in your self-esteem, identity, and ultimate goal of self-actualization. Imagine how powerful your business could be if you’re enabling your teams to achieve their full potential.

 

3. Take the time to get to know your team

93% of employees want to work for a company that cares about them as an individual 

-2016 Cone Communications Employee Engagement Study

Now that we’ve dropped (or are slowly dismantling) our professional facades and we’re showing up as ourselves at work, it’s time for you to see, hear, and connect with your team as they really are, too.

People want (a safe place) to be seen and heard. 

And safety begins with being seen.

Get to know your team – really know them. Be the boots on the ground of your company. Stop by, engage in conversation, ask about their family – or whatever is most important to them. 

CONNECT with them. This isn’t small talk. This is the cornerstone of human relationships. 

This will foster trust, safety, collaboration, break down silos, improve your employee experience and hence your customer experience: EX=CX

And then reinforce that trust. Regularly. 

        • Do you keep their “confidences” safe – what they’re confiding in with you? 
        • Are you showing up consistently? 
        • Showing genuine interest? 
        • Displaying that you’ve retained what they’ve shared?

When your team trusts you, knows that you value and trust them, and believes the business stands behind them, you’re likely to see new levels of collaboration. 

Authenticity. Trust. Collaboration. Safety. Creativity. Risk. Engagement. Passion. Reward.

It’s a powerful cycle. And dare I say, a safe bet.