Do you feel safe enough to think?
Updated: May 21
This is the first in a series of blog posts where I consider the relationship between the Thinking Environment and psychological safety.
I have been thinking a lot recently about my brain! Specifically, how it evolved to keep me safe in a vastly different world from the one I actually inhabit, and what impact that has on me and my thinking.
I recently read that our brains are hard-wired to keep us safe for the next ten seconds. So, when we perceive a threat our instincts kick in, so that we can do what needs to be done to stay alive.
Thankfully, the threats that most of us face in the 21st Century are not to our lives. They are maybe to our pride or self-esteem. Perhaps to an established belief, or a relationship. What stopped me in my tracks, was finding out that although these threats are vastly different in nature, apparently the instinctive and emotional centres in our brains can’t tell the difference!
We have simply not evolved for them to be able to do so.
Even more interesting, in the context of the Thinking Environment anyway, is the effect that instinctual and emotional response can have on our prefrontal cortex. The cognitive critical thinking bit.
When our instinctive threat responses are triggered, our prefrontal cortex becomes pretty ineffective.
Briefly, when our instinctive threat responses are triggered (maybe our boss criticises us, triggering a fearful or perhaps angry internal reaction), our prefrontal cortex becomes pretty ineffective.
There are many strategies that we can use personally to maintain a greater awareness of our instinctive emotional responses, and learn ultimately to bring these under greater control. Practicing mindfulness and yoga really help me.
But, is there anything that we can do in how we are with one another, to reduce the likelihood that we will inadvertently trigger these responses in those around us?
Can we create an environment within which there is no threat? Where those with us can feel truly psychologically safe, and ultimately keep their thinking at its best.
What I know is that I experience that every time that I am in a skilfully maintained Thinking Environment.
Over the last five years, I have observed the changes in a team of 20, as the Thinking Environment has gradually become “the way we do things”. The most striking change is to how honestly issues are tackled, and feelings expressed. To how safe people feel to think openly, honestly, as themselves.
And that got me wondering some more….
Is a Thinking Environment an incredibly effective system for creating and maintaining Psychological Safety? And if so, how does each component contribute?
It won't surprise you to discover that I think the answer to my own question is yes. But join me as I explore this idea in this series of blogs that looks at the relationship between every component of the Thinking Environment and psychological safety. At the end of the series, I’m hoping to round up my thoughts in a conversation with the CEO of a Financial Planning business which embraces the Thinking Environment as core to its culture.
In the meantime, as I explore different aspects of this idea, I’ll update this with links to connected posts.
Click below for links to other blogs in this series