A mark of a great leader is having good interpersonal skills. They know how to communicate effectively with their teams, moving them in the right direction. However, not many have mastered this necessary tool and it’s costing them more than they are aware of. If you’re looking to improve your interpersonal skills, this episode is for you. Joining the panel is Stephan Wiedner. He co-founded Noomii in 2007, which is the global leader in delivering psychological safety-based coaching. Bringing to the table a mixed set of skills and experience, including business, technology, and coaching, Stephan provides us with great insights into why interpersonal skills differentiate good leaders and managers from bad. He also dives into psychological safety and its significance in creating a culture that lets people feel that their voice matters. It’s easy to be a manager and a leader when things are going well. But when the going gets tough, the bad ones get weeded out and the great prevails. What separates them is their interpersonal skills. Tune in to this great conversation to find out how you can better this key leadership prowess so you can continue bringing your team to the top.
Thank you for joining us. For those of you that are with us, it’s so great to have you part of the conversation. That’s what makes the People Strategy Forum so unique. We have our panel every week. We have our expert contributor. This week, we have Stephan Wiedner joining us, and then we’ve got folks joining us live who are going to chime in with questions and comments. It’s nice to hear from people all around the world.
A little bit about the People Strategy Forum, if you haven’t joined us before, we’ve been doing this before the pandemic started, so over three years now. Our mission is to engage, energize, and elevate employees, companies, and in general, that workforce experience. We’re so passionate about that. We really believe in that. This discussion every week is all about what are the little or big things we can do to make the time that we spend at work enjoyable and meaningful for everybody. That’s the premise behind our discussion every week.
Just to introduce some of our regular panelists, we have Sam Reeve, he is the Founder of CompTeam, who is a sponsor of the People Strategy Forum. He got to a place in his life where he saw these big consulting firms providing very boxed strategies for every organization. Not every organization needs this cookie-cutter approach. He knew he could do better, and that’s when he started CompTeam. He’s passionate about providing a customized solution, just exactly what an organization needs. Not more, not less, but just the right specific thing for them. That’s what Sam brings to us. Also as a leader, he sets the example. He leads by example. All these things we talk about on the People Strategy Forum, Sam lives in his everyday as a leader of a team himself.
Also, joining us is Howard Nizewitz. He is a rewards and system strategist. He knows a lot about compensation. He is passionate about doing away with Excel spreadsheets, so don’t get him started on that. He’s all about modernizing, putting in systems and processes in place that motivate your employees. That’s where Howard comes from. Being efficient in your processes and making sure that your data integrity is there and that there’s safety around the work that you’re doing. That’s where Howard brings his expertise.
Char Miller, she’s a people strategist and so much more, an entrepreneur. She has a background in the healthcare industry. Her mantra is, “HR with a Heart.” It’s all about bringing the heart to the work that she does. Thank you for joining us, Char. My pleasure to have you. I’m Wendy Graham. I’m also a people strategist. My passion area is helping people embrace change and empower them to own their success in whatever that is. I love learning, talent development, and helping people be the best that they can, use their talents for good. This is our panel.
Joining us is our expert contributor, Stephan Wiedner. He’s the CEO of Noomii and Zarango. It’s so great to have you here. You co-founded Noomii in 2007. You’re a global leader in delivering psychological safety-based training. That’s a huge passion of CompTeam. We’re going to be very excited to hear about that.
You have a wide variety of skills in business, technology, and coaching. You have a background in information systems and a Bachelor in Commerce. You acquired your coach training from CTI, the world’s largest coach training back in 2006. You’ve been doing this for a long time. You are a wealth of resource for us. We’re going to pick your brain. We are passionate about safety-based coaching. I know that’s a piece we’re going to dive into. I’ll turn it over to Sam. He’s probably got a question for you to kick things off. We want to know how you got into this and we want to learn more from you.
Stephan, you’ve got a lot of irons in the fire. You’re working with a lot of companies, you’re leading them and so forth. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got to where you are? What are the different functions of the different companies that you’re in?
Thank you for having me. You’re right, I suppose, on the outside, it looks like I have a lot of irons in the fire. Yet, to some extent, everything is coalescing into the same place, same area, same direction. It is very similar to your purpose, your mission. Mine is very similar. I want to elevate teams and organizations as well. I’m all about creating sustainable high performance, whether it’s an individual, a team, or an organization. I guess you can look at it that way. My work started with individuals. That’s where coaching comes in. I started working with individuals.
Starting back in 2006 when I got my coach training, and in 2007 starting up Noomii, I’ve been immersed in this world of coaching, high performance, and so on. It’s all evolved from that original concept of improving and creating high-performance teams in individuals and organizations. For me, my whole journey started because out of university, I first got a job in construction management. We were a small little firm with six people. I loved that aspect of it. It literally worked out of my boss’ home down the road from where I lived.
We had this great feel, and we were amazing at what we did, which was scheduling. Within the world of construction, there are a lot of cost management consultants out there. We were time management consultants. A lot of our work was a little bit broader than that, but ultimately that was the real differentiator. It was managing time on large construction projects. These were like baseball stadiums, conference centers, and hospitals. Large one-time buildings that are unique compared to other home construction, which tends to be a little bit more rinse and repeat, whereas a hospital is a one-time thing.
I was the head scheduler in this $100 million hospital. It’s a brand-new greenfield construction. I was going to the site every month and interacting with up to 50 different subtrades because in a hospital that large. There are lots of different components. I was finding myself sitting in boardrooms with the head architect, the head construction management professional, the owner representative, etc. These were all folks in their 50s and 60s. I was in my twenties going, “I’m not so sure this is what I want to do.”
I saw the construction industry as being fairly the opposite of innovative. I don’t know what that is. I wanted to be in a more innovative space. Plus, I wanted to work with people not doing construction. That’s where I got into coaching, things like psychological safety, and all the interpersonal skills expertise that we’ve developed that we’re hopefully going to be talking about here.
There are a lot of things that are going on. I’d like to dive in on how your solutions help companies solve some of these problems. To start off and to give a little bit of background, when we’re thinking about interpersonal skills, of course, they’re important. In the context of management, where does it differentiate the good leaders from the bad?
The first thing I want to mention is that it’s easy to be a manager and a leader when things are going well. What we focus on is how to help leaders and managers when things aren’t going well, there’s a potential rupture, there are personality conflicts, people are bumping heads, targets aren’t being quite met so there’s a lot of stress, and there’s a global pandemic, and suddenly no one is in the office anymore. How do you interact and manage your team and the progress of your team under those types of circumstances and conditions?It's easy to be a manager and a leader when things are going well. Click To Tweet
That’s where the cream rises to the top when great leaders can shine. Perhaps anecdotally, a good story relevant to that is when we’re maybe 2 months or 6 weeks into the pandemic, I reached out to a friend of mine who is a Learning and Development Manager at an organization with about 1,500 people. He has hundreds of managers in his organization.
He started to informally reach out to all of these managers to understand, “What’s going on? How’s your team? How are you?” He said it was bimodal. There’s a bimodal distribution of managers. On one hand, managers, when asked a specific question like, “How’s your team doing?” They said, “They are stressed. They don’t know if they’re going to have a job next week. I don’t know how to answer their questions. I’m stressed.” There was a second set of managers when he asked the question, “How’s your team doing?” They said, “I don’t know. I’m not sure.”
On one hand, there was openness. On the other hand, there was a closed amount of communication where we know everybody was stressed. Yet, in half of the teams, the individuals within that team didn’t feel like they could speak up. The manager and leader wasn’t tapped into what was going on below the surface. If we think about the iceberg as a metaphor, they saw what was above the surface, and that’s it. There was very little above the surface in that particular environment. Underneath, there was a whole lot of stress and nobody was voicing it. That, to me, is demonstrating low psychological safety and high psychological safety. High psychological safety is where people feel like they can say, “I am stressed. I’m afraid for my job. What are we going to do?”
One of the big failures I typically see in what companies are doing is that when they have to take an individual contributor and make them a manager, sometimes they don’t articulate the difference in what our role is with interpersonal communication. Of course, all of us have some degree of interpersonal communication that’s required in our everyday life, let alone job. When we become a manager, we have a greater responsibility. That is not communicated to managers.
That greater responsibility is ensuring that there’s trust and psychological safety among the team and there’s good communication, not just among team members, but also from leadership to the team in particular and those individual contributors. What else do you see as being a major role of managers in communicating effectively with their team?
All the things you mentioned are important. A lot of managers, especially first-time managers, get to that position or role because of their competence as individual contributors. We think, “They know how to do thing X the best, so let’s make them a manager.” They don’t know how to be a good manager. We want to communicate what the goals are, what the strategy is, etc. The word I would use is they, as the manager, need to be facilitative. They need to facilitate outcomes for their team.As the manager, you need to facilitate outcomes for the team. Click To Tweet
Often, what first-time managers might think is, “I need to be the expert and I need to have all the answers.” We need to flip it around. Rather than directing your team and telling your team what you think they should be doing, you want to be flipping it around. That first-time manager becomes almost a servant to the team saying, “What does the team need from me in order to facilitate greater outcomes for the team?” That’s a bit of a mindset shift.
The skills that we’re looking for the manager to exercise are things around, for example, curiosity and humility. Curiosity and humility are probably the top two characteristics that we’re looking for in a manager. If you’re the expert and you feel you need to have all the answers, humility is not likely going to be a card that you’re going to play very much. Similarly, if you think you have all the right answers and you need to have all the right answers, you’re not going to ask a lot of questions. You’re not going to be very curious. That’s why we want to flip things around and we want to exercise muscle around being curious, being humble, and asking a lot of good questions to generate input from your team.
It’s a place where a lot of managers failed because of that perception. Also, their direct reports often think, especially if they’re younger, “This person has so much more experience than I do. They know everything.” What are some things that managers can do to encourage? You mentioned asking questions and so forth, but if we could dive a little deeper of what that looks for a manager to be more directed in bringing that out in their team.
Maybe it’s helpful to share a little bit about psychological safety, what that is, and our definition. In the training that we develop and deliver, we use the definition that psychological safety is a culture or an environment where everyone has the courage to speak up and the confidence to know they’ll be heard. That second half is important because we had this little insight around that back at the beginning of the pandemic when there was the Black Lives Matter movement. Those protestors had the courage to speak up, that is clear. What they were missing was that second half. They were not necessarily confident that what they were saying was going to be heard or well-received by the other parties or other folks.
If you take that global movement and bring it down into your organization or even within a single team, you want to make sure that the folks within your team can speak up, they’re going to do so, and be well-received. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. It means that you will leave room and space for opposing points of view or different points of view to be shared within your team.
That’s critical for creating an environment of psychological safety. An environment where the folks on your team feel their voice matters. Ultimately, that’s what I think is the most important critical factor for psychological safety. It’s creating an environment where people feel like their voice matters. When someone feels their voice matters, they can lean into their work. They can do great work, as opposed to simply punching the clock.
Coming back to my original story, when I was working in construction, I felt ambivalent about my work. For me, it wasn’t necessarily a systemic or an environmental thing. It was about what I’m motivated to do at work. I see ambivalence as the real enemy here. If your folks are just showing up, punching the clock, kind of like, “Work’s not that exciting. Whatever. I just do my eight hours every day and leave.” Sure, you’re going to maybe be okay, but you’re not going to be great. You’re not going to have great outcomes. In order to facilitate those great outcomes, we want to facilitate psychological safety and have people feel like their voice matters, and that they can lean in and contribute.
In a situation like you mentioned where we’re inviting our team members to share their ideas on different things. Sometimes as a leader, you might find that one of your people is very outspoken. In the US, we call it, “They’d suck the air out of the room.” It’s one of the expressions that we often use. Also, they may be extremely passionate, which may cause others not to voice up. In an environment like this, if you have a person on your team that’s like that, how do you put effective boundaries around the discussion to ensure that everybody has a chance to speak and is encouraged to speak?
That’s such a great question because you’re pointing to the practicality of everything I said. When you talk about psychological safety, or when I do, sometimes it can seem like this amorphous thing. It’s like, “Great idea, but how do I actually do it? What do I actually do within a team?” You’re right, there are likely going to be people who will always speak up. If you ask a question, they’re always going to be the first one because if there’s even three seconds of silence, they get uncomfortable and they need to fill it. There are folks who, even if directly prompted, will be very hesitant to speak up for whatever reasons.
Often, it’s cultural or it’s just the way they were, the way they grew up, their family dynamics, and all sorts of background culture-related circumstances that may affect how someone shows up in a work environment. That’s why, again, I’m coming back to the word, “facilitative,” as the leader or the manager, you need to facilitate dialogue and conversation. That is your role.
When folks are dominating the conversation and, as you said, Sam, sucking the air out of the room, you need to be able to tactfully and skillfully point that out. If you’re not pointing it out, everybody knows it to be true. It’s the elephant in the room. You need to be able to speak to the elephant in the room and be able to manage it.
The skill that we point to in our training, we call the reflecting process. There’s reflecting content, reflecting feeling, and reflecting process. Those are the three layers, and you go deeper. We use a metaphor of an ocean. If you’re at the top of the ocean, then what affects the waves? The first thing is the first layer which is the content. That’s what’s being said. The second layer is the feelings and emotions that are there. The third is the process, which is a little deeper part of the ocean, a little more opaque, and harder to identify. When you have a dominating personality, you want to be able to reflect back what’s going on in the team. Something like, “I’m noticing that you’re very quick to provide your input. That’s awesome. I want to hear from everybody else here right now.”
To that very question that you brought up, I would love to hear from Char. I know that sometimes what we’ve been talking about with a team member is vocal. Sometimes upon the leadership team, I know Char and I have had conversations with this. You’ve had several situations where you’ve had coach leaders on how to be better with their interactions with their people. Can you tell us a story?
The other day, I posted on a social media platform. I love this because it says, “I don’t just listen to your words. I listen to the use of words, your tone, your body movements, your eyes, and your subtle facial expressions. I interpret your silences. I can also hear everything you don’t say.” I posted that because that is basically my personality. I’ve had a lot of backgrounds.
I remember when I was working more in leadership and development, they put about 100 of us leaders through CIA training, believe it or not, how to recognize micro facial expressions so that if you’re a leader and you’re giving information, “Next year, we may be making a reorganization, or we may see some pay impacts.” You can look around the room and say what everybody’s micro facial expressions are looking like.
I found that extremely fascinating because the little quote that I said earlier, even though I’m very outgoing and I can speak a lot. Anyway, I am always one that watches everybody’s micro facial expressions and what they’re really thinking. I also watch when the most outspoken people and the ones showboating and trying to get all the attention.
Since I was always the HR, talent management, leadership, and development lady, I always knew what was going on behind the scenes. I knew what the employees or even the leaders that reported to the executives were thinking. My challenge in HR and all those other titles I had was getting my leaders and employees to speak up because of psychological safety. In many times, there was no safety.
As you said, Stephan, sitting in those executive boardrooms, it’s like, “I already was the fly on the wall. I already was sitting in the executive boardroom. I already was seeing all the micro facial expressions and really knew what was going on behind the scenes. However, I also found it hard to communicate what was going on. It’s because the authenticity of listening and hearing what the feedback truly was, there were oftentimes executives would get extremely defensive and argumentative. They didn’t believe what we were saying. Even though they read through 100 pages of Gallup employee survey comments, didn’t see what they needed to see to make a change.
I’ll get to the heart of my little question. I just gave you a little bit of my perspective. How do you convince an executive team to change the culture? I’ve said this time and time again. We are on a little island. The hurricanes are happening. We are trying to hold onto the palm tree, trying to not die in the tsunami of all the change, and trying to speak out at the top of our lungs to the executives, “We need to listen and hear.” That was a long comment, but how do you help an executive hear and make the change and influence and get the right talent into place to make a difference in the organization?
Philosophically or even strategically, ideally, the best way to bring psychological safety into the organization is from the top down. You can do it other ways. I absolutely believe that to be true as well. You can start at the bottom, you can start in the middle. It doesn’t matter. I think if you want to accelerate a culture change, you need to start at the very top.If you want to accelerate a culture change, you need to start at the very top. Click To Tweet
The best way to initiate that is to measure it. That’s what I like about psychological safety is that it can be measured. It’s an objective measure. You point to Google’s Project Aristotle. They did a big study because Google’s pretty smart and pretty data-driven, last time I checked. They did a multi-year study where they asked the question, “What makes an effective team?” They looked at 180 Google teams and they ranked them from 1 to 180. They knew, “We’ve got a bunch of great teams and a bunch of teams that are weaker.”
Remember, these are all Google teams. They’re probably all full of A-plus students. They’re all A-caliber members. No doubt every individual on pretty much every team is an incredibly talented and intelligent individual, yet some teams functioned at a high level and some didn’t. When they looked at all the different factors, there were 250 factors they looked at, and none of them correlated with effectiveness until they came across the concept of psychological safety. They then identified four other key factors that characterize the best teams. The belief is that psychological safety is the gateway for all those other things.
To me, that is the best piece of evidence that you can point to that says psychological safety matters. If you’re not aware of this, as a CEO, you are doing a disservice to your organization. To bring psychological safety into your organization, you want to start at the top. You want to start by measuring psychological safety and you want to start by measuring the psychological safety of your senior executive team.
Some of the stories I have are from a couple of decades ago, that ages me a little bit. The CEOs, presidents, VPs, whatever you want to call the title. When you use the phrase psychological safety, in 2023, what do you think the reaction is when you say the phrase, “We need to have a culture of psychological safety?” Is that being accepted or is there some confusion that, “I don’t understand what that means?”
I don’t see a lot of confusion, first of all. I think generally people get it and understand it. I think it’s a fairly intuitive concept. Once you lay it all out for people, it’s like, “That’s what’s happening. That’s what that is.” What I find a lot of CEOs, or maybe not a lot but a number of CEOs for sure, is they go, “I’m not so sure I have a psychological safety issue. I think it’s different.” They’ll think of the issue as being more technical in nature, or “We’re just not driving enough sales.” Their priority or their main problem in the organization is not psychological safety.
It might be true. That might be possible, yet I’d still advocate and say you might as well measure it and find out. What are you going to say if you feel a little bit of pain in your knee? Do you go to the doctor and say, “I’m not going to do a blood test. I think I just need physio. That’s what I need.” There might be something else going on that you’re not aware of. We can run some tests and try to identify what the issue is.
I totally agree. I think when you are working with A-plus students, a lot of doctors and executives that I have worked with in the past, data means everything. Data is very important. It’s a crucial competency that HR or people leader needs to embrace and bone up on. It’s funny because if you watch the old flicks, it’s a couple of business owners and they’re sitting there with their scotch, or they’re sitting there on their golf course, and they’re all like, “We’ve got a great company and we’re selling a lot of automobiles.” Making each other feel great, “We’re such a great team.”
No offense, a woman could have been there too, gentlemen. I’m just saying, on the olden days, that’s the picture of the executive team. Now, it is more accepted diversity. There is more diversity in the leadership team, obviously. We have another colleague on our team from India, I do feel there is resistance of psychological safety even at the executive team level. I feel there’s a veil or a blindfold put in front, “We all get along great because I feel so good when I’m with Mr. Jones and Sally. She feels good when she’s in the executive boardroom.”
I work for 150,000 employee company organization. The true factor is all those solar organizations, many organizations, not only have communication, bad psychological safety, have zero psychological safety with the team next door that relies on each other. It is a hard egg to crack. I do agree. What kind of data would help open the eyes, take the blindfolds off, and open brutal honesty so that senior leaders can see we have a problem of psychological safety here? Even though you’re making each other feel good, the data is not reflecting we’re very healthy in the other levels of the organization. What data do you recommend?
Again, it’s measuring psychological safety and doing so at a team-based level, division, or department level. Think of a map. In the morning news when someone’s showing you the weather for the day, and there’s all these, “We’ve got a weather system coming in from the west. There’s sunshine up here.” You have all these different pockets of temperatures and weather. Think of an organization in that same way.
If you imagine the map of the United States and all the different weather patterns in the different regions, your organization is like that as well. You’ve got sales over here. You’ve got legal over there. You’ve got marketing. You’ve got all these different departments. It’s real hot and sunny over here, and it’s real cold and icy down over there.
That is the perfect thing to do. I would’ve loved to have done that to have a map like that.
You can literally try to take an organization and put it on a map in that exact same manner. Across your organization, you’re going to have a certain type of culture. That culture is this large amorphous thing, just like the weather system. Yet you’ve got pockets of hot and cold temperatures that are these micro-climates that are a lot more malleable and adjustable.
If it’s cold over here and it’s hot over there, we can look at each of those areas and try to adjust the temperature in those local areas. When you measure the psychological safety of a team, what I’m saying is, measure psychological safety, but do it on a team-based level or a division-based level. If you ask someone, “What’s the level of psychological safety you feel in your organization versus in your team?” We all are part of multiple teams, you’re going to get different answers.
When I’m managing my own team, I’m going to feel a certain degree of psychological safety. If I go up into the senior executive team, I might feel a different level of psychological safety. It’s because as a team member as opposed to a team leader, I’m going to have a different sense of psychological safety for whatever reasons.
The context matters, and you want to assess psychological safety based on the context of each individual and ideally at a team-based or a smaller level. When you look at the data in a single area where it’s cold or hot, you can start to go, “This is interesting. I’m seeing a bimodal distribution here of data. The average score is 7 out of 10 or 70 out of 100, but we have a group of people who are 9 out of 10 and a group of people who are 5 out of 10. We have this fracture within the group. What’s that about?”
“These people have been around for five years and these people are all new.” “That’s interesting. How can we onboard new people and how can we make them feel part of the team a lot more quickly and more easily?” You can start to break down what it is that’s impeding psychological safety at that local level. You do that 100 times over and you’re going to hopefully increase the overall temperature across the entire organization.
Do you sometimes find that the executive team insulates the CEO to keep the day-to-day problems rising to the top? What do you do when you have that scenario?
We all like to fake-book. Is that what you’re pointing to, Howard? “All things are all sunny and rosy in my department. There are no problems around here.” You want objective measures. Having the data at your fingertips is powerful. What I like about the psychological safety instrument that we use is it’s seven questions. It’s not this annual survey that you send out to your people and it takes them 45 minutes to fill out, or even worse 360s for every person around you. That takes forever.
This is seven questions. It takes all of three minutes. You could administer it every month, maybe every quarter. I think once a month is maybe a little too frequent, but every quarter. To be able to equip yourself with quarterly data that objectively says, “Here’s the score in your department. Here’s the score in that person’s department. I can see we have a psychological safety problem over here, but not over there.” Be data-driven. It’s so easy, objective, and irrefutable.
What is the system that you use for that, Stephan?
The Fearless Organization is the instrument we use. That’s the tool developed by Amy Edmondson. We have this access to the software platform, but most organizations are constantly administering surveys themselves anyway. You’re not forced to use any external third-party tool. What I’m married to is not using The Fearless Organization scan or the tool that we have access to, but instead getting the data. Just get the data however you need to get the data. If you need to use this third-party tool, great. We can facilitate that. If not, that’s fine too because the questions that are asked are in the public domain. You can google it and find out what those questions are.
In my experience, oftentimes employees even are fearful to participate with a third-party person. Employees are exhausted of employee surveys and surveys in general and are fearful if they are truly honest, that there are going to be negative repercussions. Everyone knows who the most disengaged employee is. Everyone knows who the most unhappy person is on a team. If that person answers honestly, their job could be on the line. I like the recommendation. I just think that there’s a huge stigma about external and internal surveys in general.
You can measure it, but as soon as you try to measure it or as soon as you put the dipstick in the water, the water temperature changes. The act of asking the question is potentially going to change the temperature. We need to be cognizant of that and be creating an environment or setting the stage for the data to be captured in a meaningful and accurate way.
Ideally, because we’re often working at a team-based level, we encourage the manager to solicit feedback from their team and be able to set the stage and say, “Listen, I’m curious how we’re doing. Unless you answer honestly, that’s not useful for us.” That is the best way for us to be able to set the stage. It’s not like HR is coming in, it’s the manager expressing some vulnerability and humility saying, “This is important to me. It’s important to our organization. I’d love to assess it. I’d please ask you to answer the questions and answer them honestly.”
Given there might be some survey burnout, what are other methods of getting that information and getting those metrics other than doing surveys? Do you have any suggestions there?
One way to do it, I suppose, is to have a meeting where you openly talk about psychological safety and say, “What do you think psychological safety means to you?” Have it be an open discussion and dialogue where you get curious with your team. The other way that you can do it is the psychological safety scan and the report generated by The Fearless Organization.
It breaks psychological safety down into four dimensions. The four dimensions are willingness to help, diversity and inclusion, attitude toward risk and failure, and open conversation, the ability to have a dialogue or discussion around difficult topics. Breaking it down like that helps to look at the individual components and assess how we’re doing on each one of those.
You might say, “Let’s talk about our ability, desire, and willingness to help one another. What are some of the impediments that stop us from asking each other for help?” For example, there is one team we were working with where they’re all developers. They often just put their headphones on and peck away at their computer. It’s like, I’m in an office with other people, but ultimately they’re zoned in on their computer. It made it hard for people to know when or how to ask for help. How might we resolve that?
“Jim always puts his headphones on. He seems to be super zoned in for eight hours a day, and I don’t know how or when to approach him when I have a question.” How might we resolve that? “I wasn’t trying to exclude you, but I can see how I am when I put my headphones on.” Just having a conversation about it. It’s the willingness to help the attitude to risk and failure, diversity and inclusion. Basically, how are your differences and unique qualities and traits appreciated on this team? The last one is around open dialogue.
I have a question about that. Would you have that conversation as an open team, one-on-one, or both?
I would advocate doing it as a team. You’re sort of modeling the behavior that you want. You want to be able to have conversations about difficult topics and do so in a group. We see in a lot of our training when we expose people to challenging interpersonal moments within a team, this is all simulated through our software. The tendency is to want to go, “That’s uncomfortable. Can we hit time out and I’ll talk to you each individually?” Something just happened in the team, and you need to be able to approach it at that moment. Everyone’s going to be left wondering what happened and what’s the resolution. Why not approach it right there in the team because something happened in the team? We want to encourage more of that.
What’s coming to me is like Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Him talking about, when you want to have that conflict, be able to have healthy conflict. The leader has to set the example and be willing to go first. That’s what’s been popping up with the different things we’ve been discussing.
Exactly, model the behavior you want to see in your team.Model the behavior you want to see in your team. Click To Tweet
The other big trend that’s going on right now is the AI. It has been the talk of the town for several months. Being in the software business, I’m sure that you’re seeing how some of this interfaces with your world. How is AI impacting this entire topic of interpersonal communication and effectiveness, and also, in the software front?
A lot. The potential impact is enormous. I’ll tell a little bit about Skillsetter. Skillsetter as a software platform wherein folks can practice their interpersonal skills. The main mode or method for them to do that is that we have a huge library of clips that we’ve developed with actors depicting challenging moments within a team. It could be a one-on-one or it could be within a broader team, but it’s all business-based clips.
The individual, when they practice a skill, because what we do is we take a whole bunch of complex skills and try to break them down. Just like you would in sports or in music. You don’t go out there and start playing basketball, you got to learn how to dribble with your right hand, dribble with your left hand, shoot, pass. These are all the skills. We do the same thing when it comes to interpersonal skills. We break them down, and then you practice them one at a time.
We expose you to a 32nd or a 62nd clip, and then with your webcam, you record a response. Just because it’s a practice system, you get to rerecord. It’s a little bit like a batting cage. You can set the dial to say a 60-mile-an-hour slider, or a 90-mile-an-hour fastball. You can set the dial to what you want, and then you can practice your swing. Same thing. You can practice again and again until you master the individual skill. Of course, in a game or a real-life meeting, you can use and draw upon whatever skills you need in that moment.
One of the impediments to the tool that we have is that there’s human feedback. After you observe and watch yourself, you need to assess yourself based on a rubric like, “Did I do A, B, C, and D?” You then submit it to get feedback from others. Either other members of your team because we do group-based training, or from an expert who gives you specific feedback on how to improve those interpersonal skills.
What we’re seeing as an opportunity with AI is we’re using AI to give immediate feedback to folks. That’s the opportunity. For example, when you’re responding back or watching yourself after you’ve recorded a 32nd or 62nd response to someone or in a particular situation, we can assess all sorts of things. To Char’s earlier point, we can measure things like your nonverbals.
We can use AI to look at your facial expressions. We can say how often you expressed emotion and what emotion you expressed with your nonverbals. What we see with a lot of business folks is that their faces are very flat. There are not a lot of nonverbals. They might be business all the time, forward, “I’m sorry, your grandfather died.” No emotion. The words might be correct, but the emotion is wrong.
The second thing we can do with AI is look at the tone. The tone is irrespective of language. It doesn’t matter. If you’re mad and you’re yelling, I know that you’re doing that, it doesn’t matter what language you’re in. We can have AI assess tone. The third thing is to assess the words that you’re actually saying. Of course, there’s lots of sentiment analysis that’s being done based on the words, but the words aren’t the whole thing. If I say, “What did you mean by that?” Versus, “What did you mean by that?” One is loaded with a lot more judgment.
We need to look at all three of those layers. AI is getting amazing out of the box. These are out-of-the-box solutions that are starting to be able to do this thing. It’s accelerating the potential that we have to start to employ it. To give people immediate feedback on how they’re doing and how they’re communicating in these simulated environments. That is powerful because what we see among a lot of leaders and managers is a lack of awareness about how they’re being perceived and how their communication impacts the people around them. They’re unaware.
The whole Zoom world now that we live in has exploded in the last few years. Now, you can analyze people’s facial expressions, if they looked to the left, cringed, had no effect, or smile all the time. Do you think that’s made a difference now that we’re all on our computers or we’re doing a lot of our meetings over the computers?
You’ll lose a lot, don’t you think? We gain a lot because we can communicate and have video. We’re not in the same room. I’m not seeing you informally walk down the hall to grab a glass of water. There’s a lot of missed body language that we might be able to detect there. When someone’s having a bad day, they might be able to mask it on a Zoom call. If you see them moping around, there’s more data there for us to be able to collect.
As humans, we have this antenna and we’re picking up on a lot of data that through Zoom, we miss. I think it’s a good medium. There are a lot of upsides to being able to work remotely and all over the world, and all that sort of thing. There’s something nice about being in the same room and the same location as someone else. There are pros and cons.
It is so fascinating how technology is changing our world very quickly. I think that when we’re talking about AI, I know there’s a lot of fear around the AI equation. The important part is that we’re looking at how to use AI in a very effective and responsible way. Of course, one of the things with AI is that people have to teach AI how to react and so forth. The more of us that are trying to use AI in an effective beneficial way for humanity, the better that system’s going to be for humanity.
There’s always a risk of people misusing it, of course. We need to make sure that people are using it for the right reasons to counterbalance some of those batteries. A great way that you mentioned is, as far as giving us feedback to be better humans, so that we’re more aware of how we may be perceived by others. It’s very powerful. I know a lot of our audience are thinking on how they can learn more about that and what you provide. If they want to learn more about your systems and your workshops, how do they go about doing that?
One thing I’d like to offer is for folks to measure psychological safety, I talked a lot about that. If there are audiences who are curious to know how their team is performing with respect to psychological safety, I’d love to administer that assessment for them. It’s three minutes. It doesn’t take a lot of time. It doesn’t take me a lot of time to facilitate that with my team. I’m happy to do that for you. The place to go would be our website, Zarango.com/FreePSI. PSI stands for Psychological Safety Index. Check out that link, put in your name, and then we’ll schedule a brief call to talk about how we might administer that assessment, and let’s start with the data.
This has been great. Thank you so much, Stephan, for your time. We appreciate it. This great discussion about psychological safety is so important. I’m glad that we have an expert like you to refer to.
Thank you very much. It was a pleasure. Enjoy the rest of your day. Thank you for the opportunity again. I appreciate it. Thanks.
Thank you, everyone. See you next time. Take care.
Stephan co-founded Noomii in 2007, which is the global leader in delivering psychological safety-based coaching.Stephan brings to the table a mixed set of skills and experience including business, technology, and coaching.
Stephan is a graduate of the University of British Columbia Bachelor of Commerce program, specializing in information systems.
He acquired his coach training in 2006 from the CTI, the world’s largest coach training school.
In addition to his career, educational, and entrepreneurial pursuits, Stephan is a dedicated husband and father of two beautiful children.