What does equality require of us?
Updated: May 21, 2021
This post is part of a series of blog posts where I consider each component of the Thinking Environment individually, in order to better understand the relationship between the Thinking Environment and psychological safety. In this post, I’m concentrating on the component of Equality.
Equality: Regarding each other as thinking peers, giving equal time to think.
Most of us have an instinct to help. To solve the problems that are brought to us by our kids, our Partners, friends, or those we work with. We just want to help. It somehow makes us feel more worthwhile, more valuable, if we can solve other people’s problems for them.
And when we are on the other side of the fence, we can crave it. The security of someone else telling us what to do. Perhaps giving us permission to do something that we are unsure of. Even having the excuse of hiding behind someone else’s idea- far less risky if it goes wrong.
It can feel safe when someone else, especially someone higher up the pecking order, does the thinking for us.
But I’ve begun to see that safety as an illusion. That I don’t feel truly safe when someone else is thinking for me. Not safe enough to truly be my authentic, whole self. Not safe enough to have real confidence in my own thinking. Certainly not safe enough to think independently at my best.
I have noticed that in the presence of someone who asserts that they know better than me, that their experience makes them somehow superior to me, I begin to trust myself less. In certain cases, over years, I have found it eroding my self-esteem, even my sense of who I really am.
When a boss or a colleague takes up all the airtime in a meeting because what they have to say is just SO important. We can start to wonder if they’re right. If what we have to say doesn’t really matter anyway.
In most meetings, 30% of people do 90% of the talking. Consistently.
I recently read that in most meetings 30% of people do 90% of the talking. Worryingly, that pattern tends to persist (i.e. the same 30% of people contribute the most, consistently across all of their meetings). So, what about the other 70%? What about their thinking? Does it matter less?
When we are not treated as equal, able to think about and solve things for ourselves, does our thinking become limited? Do we start to lose confidence, even our sense of self? Simply because we have not been allowed to think of ourselves as able to come up with our own ideas.
It is still a radical and courageous act, to genuinely think for ourselves. In a world where conformity, normality, and fitting in are so highly valued. We need to believe ourselves truly equal in our ability to think for ourselves, to act with that courage.
How can we begin to really believe in the equality of others
And from the other side, how can we build that courage in those around us? How can we begin to really believe in the equality of others, who are perhaps less experienced or less qualified than us, to be able to think? Can we step back, trust, and believe that we don’t always need to have all the answers? It’s tough!
What happens when as leaders, we take that approach? When we start assuming that everyone on our team is equal to us in their ability to think. Does it somehow make us less important if we are not the solver, the innovator, the helper? Does it make those around us feel less confident in us, or less safe and secure if we are more vulnerable and open?
I don’t think so. When I, and other leaders I have worked with have taken this approach I have repeatedly seen the opposite to be true.
When we ask questions, because we are genuinely interested in the answers, when we listen and make sure that everyone else speaks more than we do, we become more important not less. More important than we were when we (supposedly) had all the answers.
This belief in equality builds self-esteem, encourages new thoughts to emerge, and supports genuine collaboration and innovation.
It begins to create safety of a totally different kind.
Safety to explore new ideas, to innovate, and to really challenge old established ways of thinking.
The safety for those around us to start to be their authentic, whole selves.
Click below for links to other blogs in this series