Psychological Uncertainty

The latest buzzphrase is psychological safety. It is aspirational, and as yet, no one knows how to achieve this social construct, but it seems most psychologists are discussing what it will look like and how it might be achieved. I doubt we will. It’s a bit like we’re drowning while they are describing the water. 

But what if we came from the opposite angle and talked more about “psychological uncertainty”? At least we know what this is. We all know the uncertain feeling one gets when we want to say something delicate to someone, but we are unsure how they will respond. We often let sleeping dogs lie, afraid to rock the boat or upset the applecart. Or if we say something and a conflict arises, we are unsure how to resolve it. Psychological uncertainty is what most people face at work daily.

The phrase “psychological safety” has been around at least since 1965 from a paper written by Edgar Schein and Warren Bennis:

“Psychological safety is an atmosphere where one can take chances…..without fear & with sufficient protection.”

We seem to have psychological uncertainty and lack this safety in teams because most organizations have insufficient protections for speaking up and speaking out. For example, what if you had a dispute with your team leader? How do you resolve it without making it worse? Most will answer vague replies about approaching HR (other management) or an external advisor, but where do we get them, and how do we know we will get a fair hearing? It’s all too hard, and the cause of so many disgruntled employees, I believe.

A standard approach that has been around for a long time but continues to be neglected by most organizations is using our peers to adjudicate and review our conflicts when needed. This idea is hardly new; in fact, parts of the democratic process was built upon peer reviewing our conflicts thousands of years ago, and we still use it today in our judicial system, trial by jury. All we need do is add an intervention procedure to filter out and resolve our micro-conflicts by ourselves, and only if our conflicts escalate do we use it as a last resort to engage our peers.

By simplifying, digitizing, and streamlining the whole process into an easy-to-use toolkit, I believe we can provide sufficient protection for all of us to broach the most crucial conversations and radically reduce the psychological uncertainty in our teams as we pursue better collaboration and innovative decision-making.

We have done this with our intervention toolkit called

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