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Speaking Up When it Feels Risky


Throughout the Psychological Safety Podcast Club meetings, we've been talking about how much of what we listen to is about 'best world' behaviors. Podcasts talking about employee and employer behaviors already is psychologically safe environments. For this past meeting, we listened to an episode that emphasized what can be done in those situations when it feels risky


The guest, Jim Detert, shared four steps of cultivating everyday courage: lay the groundwork; choose your battles; persuade in the moment; follow up. Our conversation mainly revolved around laying the groundwork and persuading in the moment.


Lay groundwork internally and externally


Laying groundwork means setting yourself up for success ahead of any issues so you can be most useful when you need to raise your voice. One example is 'idiosyncrasy credits' such as demonstrating fairness to a variety of groups and causes, and demonstrating commitment and value to the organization.


What was a newer take (for me) on this was the perspective on external groundwork Jim brought up. He highlighted that reducing your dependence on the organization itself is also a way to support this. One is more likely to speak up if they don't feel trapped within the organization. Examples of external groundwork strategies include—reducing one's standard of living to avoid the pressure of those 'golden handcuffs,' updating your resume, or developing expertise that makes you too valuable to lose.


Speaking up equates with persuasion


We loved the insight shared that when one feels compelled to speak up about something, it means the individual doesn't have the power or resources to deal with it solo. Speaking up is always a matter, to some degree, of persuasion. This also means that it's not helpful to frame the issue with logic that makes sense to us. Instead, it's more important to frame it in a way that resonates with how our managers or peers think. This may require a bit of undercover, secret-agent, research ahead of time. 

One tip we liked (it's so easy!) is to shift from absolutist language (the correct thing to do), which implies one answer or version of the truth to partial language (a correct thing to do) which implies the multiplicity of solutions and encourages dialogue and discussion. A simple article shift from the to a can shift an entire conversation.


It's important to highlight that this podcast focused on strategies that can maximize one's chance of success within the organization. They are not the only strategies, and issues like unconscious bias, systemic racism, and harassment may be determined by an individual as too crucial to 'wait and lay some groundwork' for.


This podcast was full of practical tips on speaking up in professionally risky situations—embodying the behaviors of a psychologically safe environment even when you're not in that environment. Check it out here and share your thoughts. Or, if reading is more your style, Here's an HBR article by Jim Detert covering those four steps.


Are you trying to create and maintain a high-impact work culture but find your head is swimming in the ambiguous, remote-first environment? I'm a certified Project Manager with a wealth of experience in talent-related projects including Learning & Development, Talent Management, Inclusion & Diversity, and more. Testing and scaling talent solutions is what I love. Let's connect for a quick (and free!) brainstorm.

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©2019 by Joshua Ehrenreich