To know or not to know......
Updated: Sep 3, 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 focus on the component of Information.
Information: Supplying facts, recognising social context, dismantling denial.
I read Brené Brown’s Leadership book, Dare to Lead, a couple of years ago (and a couple more times since). It is one of the best, certainly the most practical Leadership book that I have read (yet) and I highly recommend it.
One of the many stand out takeaways for me, was her phrase:
“Clear is Kind. Unclear is Unkind.”
When I first read it, I could immediately see how it could apply when we are giving feedback. I know there are many occasions when I have given woolly unspecific feedback with the hope that I am saving others’ feelings. We think we are being kinder by skirting around something.
In fact, Brown points out, we’re really, just protecting ourselves from an uncomfortable conversation, and not being kind at all. This approach gives little to no chance of the recipient of your poor feedback really understanding the issues and improving. We’ve been unclear about our expectations and perhaps how they are not being met. That is unkind. I could see that. It made total sense.
It was also quite an uncomfortable read, but I’m working on that!
Recently though, I have been considering just how widely this concept applies. And how it might link to the component of Information in a Thinking environment.
If we do not have the information that we need, to be fully informed, we cannot think clearly and effectively.
Even more than that though particularly in a period of significant change, if we do not feel well informed, I think it can make us feel uncertain, maybe even unsafe.
As leaders, we often despair about office gossip, the misinformation that it spreads, and the fall out that is created. But when a decision is pending that will affect you, and it’s out of your hands, it is unsettling, even frightening. Especially when you sense that information is being hidden or withheld. Looking at it that way, why would you not seek comfort in discussing your uncertainties with colleagues in the same boat.
From that perspective, as I see it anyway, there is plenty that we can do to head this one off at the pass. If we can keep our teams better informed, they will feel safer and more secure. That means less gossip, meaning less time-consuming fall out.
We can often think that it is safer for our teams not to know, for us to protect in some way from what is going on.
But if we have recruited well, I think that we should assume that we have astute people around us, who will be noticing, and connecting the dots. That people are guessing more than we usually give them credit for, and then, often, worrying based on their deductions.
So, I’ve come to believe that clear is kind here too. Even when we do not have a full picture ourselves, or there is privileged information that we cannot share for now, we should always work to inform as well as we can, and as clearly as we can. To anticipate the anxiety and share information that could reduce it. To acknowledge the feelings of our teams, particularly in times of change. To be clear, and to manage expectations.
In creating a psychologically safe environment, within which people can think at their best, providing full and clear information, is a kindness that we cannot afford to ignore.
Click below for links to other blogs in this series