Emotional Security & Emotional Safety
One of my most respected work associates, friends and challenger, Annika Parisotto, inspired this article when she asked me this question, “How can we encourage people in our teams to be more open when they are from cultures where being oneself is not allowed?”
Challenger? Annika says what she thinks, politely, respectfully, naturally, and all from an enquiring mind. She challenges what she doesn’t see as logical, sensible or she will challenge to gain clarity and better understanding. Annika will tell you precisely what you need to hear, in a professional and friendly way. “This” is gold dust and sadly far too rare. Add to that an unrivalled passion and drive for the work she undertakes, and you have a superbly professional and competent consultant who delivers brilliant results every time.
If you are wondering why I have extolled the virtues of Annika, it is because ironically, the answer to Annika’s question is for people to become more like her. Be the authentic and real you!
We must empower our people to speak out and say what they think, and actively encourage them to do this, ask them to challenge thinking respectfully and professionally. It unleashes innovation, creates and strengthens relationships, gives the business access to every new idea and embraces challenge, which every business should continuously be seeking to do.
“Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be
much arguing, much writing, many opinions;
for opinions in good men is but knowledge in the making.”
John Milton – an English poet, polemicist and man of letters.
The short answer to Annika’s question:
It is all about the working environment that the organisation, leaders or managers create. Ideally, the organisation must provide Emotional Security which gives Emotional Safety which we’ve always abbreviated as ES². Or possibly, the manager creates ES² in their own “localised culture” (see below).
When we were working with this concept in 2015, we went through much internal wrangling about whether to choose Emotional Safety or Emotional Security.
The moment of decision came when we looked at the words and believed that “security”, is that which protects our safety. Without security we would not enjoy the safety it provides. For people to feel safe, they need to feel security from policy documents (people strategy) which offer that safety from security, which organisationally we have promised.
As an organisation, we need to ensure (and demand) the security of our people, so that every single person feels safe to speak and challenge. This way they can speak out, offer challenges, propose ideas and not worry about reactions or possible repercussions.
This article was written in June 2020 when we (in the UK) were dealing with Covid. A point I want to make here is that if anything at all positive came from that pandemic, it was the realisation that we need to care for each other far more. The words empathy, vulnerability, honesty and the topic of mental health have been given the spotlight they so desperately deserve.
When we start to emerge into some form of normality, whatever that may look like, we need to understand that ES² will be needed to help anyone in your organisation who is suffering from any mental health stress or issues. They must believe that they can talk about how they are feeling without the worry of being “managed out”, being seen as weak, or fearful of the consequences in any way at all. They MUST feel the safety your organisation has guaranteed them when it implemented that security statement/policy.
The bow wave of mental health issues will continue to grow as we fight this pandemic. So we need to be ready for the impact and be fully prepared to deal with it in the right way.
I believe that there are two types of culture that need identifying in Annika’s question. Luckily the solution is pretty much the same for both:
1. Origin culture, as in the country people were born and raised in, the religious upbringing they were taught to follow and respect, the values they learned. Their parents and wider family would probably have passed on their values as well. This formed our initial belief system and guided us to what is right, wrong, correct to do or incorrect to do (acceptable).
2. Workplace culture, where the workplace culture has been formed by their experience (good or bad). Perhaps in an organisation which did not welcome people who were outspoken or people who spoke their mind. Perhaps it was dangerous to do this and those people who wanted to speak their mind probably left their previous organisation because of this. People really do leave people rather than organisations (in general).
Culture from Origin:
The country where we were born influenced and determined our values and behaviours unless our parents or guardians taught us otherwise. It may be that the national/religious experience taught people it is impolite, inappropriate or even unacceptable to speak out. It may have been a place where freedom of speech is, or was, not what others enjoy elsewhere in the world.
However, what that lived experience taught us is that speaking our mind is not the thing to do. Perhaps it was seen as disrespectful to disagree with an older or senior person as the culture frowned on such behaviour.
People’s experiences of the castigatory behaviours of those in more powerful positions have formed this mindset. Also, bear in mind that these more powerful positions could be a combination of political, religious or social influences. If the culture they now work in is different, we must do all we can to help them understand this new culture where honest, authentic contributions are welcomed.
Workplace Culture Categories:
I split an organisation’s culture into three categories.
1. Presented culture – where the organisation proudly portrays the culture they say or believe everyone exhibits. Sadly, experience has taught me that the culture that is experienced by the people in an organisation, is often very different from the values adorning the walls and websites of organisations.
2. Experienced culture – the real feeling of the organisation’s culture that people experience from working there. Also, how the culture is described to a new starter! (Often far from the one portrayed). Belief can create reality for your new starters so watch out for negative influencers!
3. Localised culture – this can be completely different between two teams situated right beside one another. Usually, this is created by a team leader or manager (who can also create ES² locally). Other times, this happens because of the pressure exerted by a more senior leader or manager. Occasionally it can be created by a team member who holds social dominance through their seniority, or purely through their strong personality and approach.
The main reason people feel that they can’t or shouldn’t speak out at work is that they believe that it is dangerous for them to do so. They fear they may be treated differently because of it, or, dare I suggest, even mistreated for doing so.
They have experienced the behaviours of superiors or others in the organisation and have quickly learned that they if wish to keep their job and not lose the prospect of promotion, they need to resist the urge to speak freely.
Sadly I have experienced this as the top reason and head and shoulders above any other.
If this cultural virus is not addressed, many good people will leave such an inhibited working environment. They may move to another part of the business, or worse yet, they will leave the organisation entirely. In reality, they are leaving that environment and those who allowed it to exist. Yes, people really do mostly leave their managers or cultures, not their jobs.
Businesses and organisations NEED these people who are thinkers and challengers to push us to develop and grow! They are the ones who will ruffle our feathers, yes, but ultimately, these are the people who will make us think outside of that box and become far more creative.
My message to senior leaders is this; if this rings a bell then realise what it is that you are losing and act now! Every single day you are losing innovative thinking, creativity, strength from different perspectives, brought over hints and tips from previous experience in other organisations, and a much happier and thriving “community” of people driving success. Help them unleash all of this through ES².
This is what we call people who consciously, unconsciously, or accidentally block people from saying what they need or want to say. They block the flow of innovation and ideas because of how they have historically behaved before.
This can be due to the pressure they are under from a senior manager or leader. The constant demands for KPIs and targets to be met is relentless. This creates pressure that people must deal with which changes their normal behaviour.
Remember that many blockers may be totally unaware of the effect their behaviour is having on the behaviour of others. So don’t chastise them, instead, help them understand, coach them and bring them round to the concept of ES² (see below). Ensure they appreciate the benefits it brings to everyone, the smooth running of their team, the strengthening of relationships and far better organisational innovation and success. Help them lift that barrier.
Emotional Security + Emotional Safety = ES²
Here at LaPD Solutions Ltd, we came up with the terms Moccasin Approach®.
The only way the Moccasin Approach works properly is by creating Emotional Security for all the people within an organisation. Emotional Security provides your people with an environment of Emotional Safety. People are not just able to say what they want; they are actively encouraged and rewarded for doing so. But they will only do this if they know the security protects them. Only then is it safe for them to speak out.
The link through to Emotional Intelligence (EI) is perfect. In EI we are looking to become more self-aware, to be able to manage our own behaviours, to become more socially aware by knowing and understanding our people, (walking in their moccasins), and building superbly efficient and effective relationships. And yes, this works within a family and social relationships too.
But what if their manager or a senior leader is a blocker? There can be only one reason for this, Emotional Security is not truly practised by all. To be effective, ES² MUST protect every person in the organisation and checks put in place to ensure it exists.
ES² must be implemented from and by all senior leadership. It must be proactively fostered, driven and supported by all. Leaders, managers and HR must monitor it, and it has to be managed like our other precious resources such as our humans in Human Resources.
If any good came from the Covid-19 pandemic, it is how we have become far more focused on each other. Here at LaPD Solutions, we hope that ES² will become a recognised necessity in organisations. As an external consultant, I can talk about EI and ES² and point out the eye-watering evidence and still be ignored. But I’d like to think that with a presence in HR it would demand an ear and be heard and acted upon.
Unconscious or Conscious acceptance:
I have made it sound easy, just get some EI & ES² and you’re sorted, job done! But not quite. All sorts of people in our organisations including, senior leaders, managers, and teammates unconsciously or consciously block others. Experience has shown me that some very senior people live in a bubble of incorrect beliefs and “big assumptions”. (“Immunity to Change” A great read – Kegan R and Lahey L – 2009).
I find that many senior leaders believe that their organisation’s culture is lived out through its values and underpinning behaviours, but often it is not! People just say it is! People do not tell their managers the full story; people hide facts and figures; and why? Because they’re scared to speak the truth! Senior leaders will even defend it saying, “no one tells me there’s anything wrong so it must be fine”, to which I say, “that’s exactly my point!” Wake up!
My key message to senior leadership is to create your own organisational ES² environment. Take the time to truly understand what it is like in the world of your people by using the Moccasin Approach. Feel what it is like to walk in the shoes of your people, what are their challenges and DO something about it. Encourage them to speak out and feed innovation.
ES² is a slow drip-feed type of change which will gradually create a real feeling of safety in all. This has to be viral; this has to be lived and breathed by everyone. You have to earn their trust; and that takes time effort and consistency, there really is no other way. People need to feel it is working first. The key ingredient for this to work is social awareness from EI.
As I said in my short answer, “It is all about the working environment that the organisation, leaders or managers create”. It’s about the lived experience of your people (all of them). Getting your people to feel they can say what they want, and respectfully disagree with peers, managers or leaders, is only ever achieved by ensuring ES² is firmly in place and monitored.
Most importantly, while this can create one of the most powerful and empowering working environments that any organisation can hope to achieve, it is also the most delicate. At the first sign of any form of being held to account for just being open and honest, it won’t just melt, it will shatter in a moment, and be gone!