The Anatomy of An Effective Meeting Part 2: Psychological Safety

Understand why psychological safety is important in meetings, and learn how to build trust with your team

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Workest Blog Post Anatomy of Meeting Part 2

This is the second part of our 3-part series on “The Anatomy of An Effective Meeting.” Read Part 1 and Part 3.

Are you tired of sitting in back-to-back meetings? Do you end the day wondering, “Did I even do anything today”? As we head into the second year of remote work, you’re likely experiencing some degree of Zoom fatigue.

Given the amount of time we are spending on video conference calls, it pays to be conscious of how we conduct ourselves and optimize our time, especially when sitting in meetings.

If you’re looking for a better way to navigate the meetings in your company, we’ve got this 3-part series on “How to Have Effective Meetings.” In this week’s edition, we will talk about how to build psychological safety into your meetings.

So we’re all on the same page, we’re defining psychological safety as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for taking interpersonal risks.”

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Why psychological safety matters

When there is a strong sense of safety within a meeting, employees will feel more comfortable speaking up, expressing disagreements, and sharing controversial opinions. This kind of discussion can often lead to new and innovative ideas, diverse thinking, and better business outcomes.

While you may not be able to see psychological safety in a meeting, you’ll certainly be able to notice its absence when the team is not feeling it.

While you may not be able to see psychological safety in a meeting, you’ll certainly be able to notice its absence when the team is not feeling it. You may notice employees asking less questions, certain people dominating the conversation while others remain quiet, and important problems never brought to light during discussions.

Without safety and vulnerability in meetings, your employees won’t feel comfortable bringing up hot button topics with you, and thus, progress will stifle.

Strategies for building psychological safety in meetings

If you’re finding yourself and your team in a situation where psychological safety needs to be built, here are some things you can do:

Openly admit your own mistakes: If you are the one leading a meeting, and you’re brave enough to admit your own mistakes to the group, it will signal to others that they too are safe to make mistakes. This will help people be more open in things like brainstorming because they won’t worry about coming across as uninformed.

Validate people’s opinions: It’s important to explicitly let people know that everyone’s opinion within the meeting is important and valid. This is not something that is always assumed.

Encourage equal participation: Often, the loudest voice in the room can take up the most space. This does not leave room for those who might be less boisterous with equally good ideas to share their piece. In a virtual meeting, encourage everyone to speak. You can let the group know you’ll go around the group and ask each individual to share their thoughts. You can also implement the “raise your hand” function on Zoom and manage participation that way to control for interruptions.

Bring forward any assumptions: There may be underlying assumptions that the group is basing their opinions on, which may or may not be correct. For example, you may assume that everyone understands the purpose of your meeting or that everyone has had time to read the meeting agenda. Putting these out there will help you have a more transparent debate.

There are many different ways to increase safety within a meeting so get creative and think about what helps you feel safe opening up and sharing.

Recognizing power dynamics

Whether we see them or acknowledge them, we are all fighting for shared power when in meetings, and power dynamics always exist. To have more equitable meetings, it’s important to understand your own power and how that affects the meetings you’re part of.

To make sure that power dynamics are kept at bay within your meetings, consider asking yourself:

What is my own power? There are some obvious ways that your own power may come through. For example, if you are in a leadership position, how might your presence influence how comfortable people feel speaking up or opposing your opinions? If your personality is more assertive and direct than others, how comfortable is everyone speaking up to match your level?

What about your gender, ethnicity, tenure, or seniority?

Who is in the (virtual) room? Less obvious to understand is the safety needs of others in the room. This is why it’s important to understand who is in the virtual “room.” For example, you may have parents with kids at home, or someone with a repair person in the background. While you might insist that everyone keep their camera on, there may be some people who don’t want to have to explain what’s going on in the background.

There are also other safety needs such as someone’s role in the meetings. Is there a go-to person you always call on to take notes? How does calling on that person impact their own ability to advance and contribute to the meeting?

If you want to have more effective meetings, make sure everyone first feels heard and set up for success by making psychological safety a priority.

Stay tuned for next week’s article as we head into the third (and final) part of this series and discuss strategies for active facilitation in meetings.

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