What is winning anyway?
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 consider the component of Encouragement.
Encouragement: Giving courage to go to the unexplored edge of our thinking by ceasing competition as Thinkers.
We’re all hard wired to win. Genetically I mean. We evolved to compete. For resources, a mate, the right to sleep in the safest cave, the richest pickings when foraging.
Now, when we don’t have to compete any more to physically stay alive and thrive, this drive has been redirected. In many cases, it comes out in healthy ways of course (competitive sport being the obvious example). But we also compete in conversation. To be the one who has the best idea, or is the most right, perhaps to win an argument, to be the cleverest, the funniest, the most well liked.
There’s still probably competition to win a mate at play (just check out your local dodgy late opening pub on a Friday night to see that) but otherwise, things have moved on.
So, in this modern world of competition, how safe do we feel with each other?
If we are talking, and you get a sense that it is more important for me to be right than it is for us to actually get at what is true, will you feel safe to tell me what you really think? Especially if you realise that what you think is contrary to what I think. Even more especially if I have any kind of power over you.
If you sense that by opening up and sharing how you really feel, or what you truly think, that I could ridicule you, put you down, or even use what you say against you in the future. Will you feel safe?
I am fairly sure that as you read this, you will be able to think of a time where you have been inside an interaction where it has felt this way, probably from both sides! I am equally sure that it would have made you feel a bit less safe to express your true thoughts and feelings with that person in the future. And if that becomes a repeating pattern, well then, we are in real trouble. Especially as Leaders, unless of course we want a team of “Yes'' people and a culture where groupthink prevails.
Imagine the power we can unlock instead, if we create true safety for people to really think as and for themselves, and express all of their views. To create the safety within which we could all move from wanting to be right, to wanting to get it right, together.
I recently read a great quote from James Clear in his book “Atomic Habits”
“A strategy for thinking clearly:
Rather than trying to be right, assume you are wrong and try to be less wrong.
Trying to be right, has a tendency to devolve into protecting your beliefs. Trying to be less wrong, has a tendency to prompt more questions and intellectual humility.”
If we can enter more situations with this in mind, we start to move away from this internal competition.
We move towards the behaviours which create the Thinking Environment component of encouragement.
Encouragement to go to the cutting edge of our Thinking. Free from any internal competition.
And that creates safety for those around us. For others to think as themselves, and for themselves, at their best.
Click below for links to other blogs in this series