I have written before about psychological safety, the belief that one won't be penalised or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions or concerns. In teams, it refers to team members believing that they can take risks without being shamed by other team members.
Our lives outside of work tend to feel more psychologically safe. We are often more able to open up with freedom to our partners and close friends. We create a safe and happier environment where we find it easy to express our opinions, safe in the knowledge that they will be met with support and encouragement.
Expressing gratitude can help us to extend that safe and happy place. We often look forward to leaving work, not because the job is challenging but because the environment is challenging! We want to hurry home or to the pub, so that we do not have to walk on eggshells and choose our words carefully, to feel at peace with our surroundings.
By introducing practices of gratitude, we can expand our happy place and make our entire world psychologically safe.
Accepting gratitude is the first step to psychological safety. Sometimes we find it difficult to accept gratitude. We say 'I'm just doing my job' etc. Gratitude may have been instilled amongst us as children and we may feel that being an adult involves being less appreciative as we react against our parents programming. Being able to accept gratitude improves our lives however old we are!
Gratitude can be enhanced in a couple of ways. Using the person's name and expressing our reason to be thankful can deepen the appreciation. When we hear our name in a positive context it fires up the prosocial neural networks which has a positive effect on our mood or state of mind. Hearing the reason we are being thanked helps us to invest more in psychological safety as studies have shown.
Expanding our boundaries of psychological safety, helps us to build stronger teams and reinforces our motivation making us want to strive to be kinder and more appreciative.
We often find that giving compliments is easier than expressing gratitude, this is because when we pay a compliment, we are setting ourselves slightly above the other person, but when we express gratitude, we position ourselves equal to the other person. We recognise that help was required. If we turn compliments into gratitude, we will solidify the bond in the relationship and generate more psychological safety. For example, instead of saying "you're so clever", say "thank you for your intelligent comment, it really is appreciated!"
Gratitude creates an invisible bond between the person expressing gratitude and the recipient of the thanks. Compliments are like drugs, they fuel the ego and make us feel good about ourselves but we may become dependent on them, we need them to maintain that high level of self-esteem. On the other hand, gratitude is more neutral and has a safer effect on the brain. This because gratitude shows you are going further than what is necessary, it shows that we are being kinder than we have to be! Too many compliments can make us big headed and egotistical, but you can't get too much gratitude, and it really makes our environment psychologically safer.
We can make our work environment psychologically safer by putting gratitude at the forefront of everything. Open meetings with gratitude, go beyond thanking them for coming. Be careful though, make sure everyone in attendance feels appreciated, if most (but not all) are thanked for something, the 'unthanked minority' can undermine the psychological safety of the whole group and this feeling of insecurity can be contagious and spread through the whole group.
If we start with gratitude, searching for reasons to be grateful we will generate a more positive environment. Looking for reasons to be grateful will also make us kinder. We can start those chains of gratitude by thanking others for their gratitude!
I've written about practices of gratitude before in the form of 'gratitude journals', but we can also be proactive with gratitude by making a list at the end of each day of all the things we personally are grateful for and for all the people we are grateful for too!
This can then be turned into a 'gratitude action plan' for the next day, so we actively seek out those people we are grateful to and thank them. Using the TAP App is a great way to take a few minutes out of our day and express thanks to others for their kindness, making sure those messages get to those deserving people! We can even thank people in advance, to encourage acts of kindness.
When we are stressed our levels of psychological safety are reduced. Gratitude reduces stress and improves our levels of safety, so let's continue to implement practices of gratitude and extend our happy place to the whole world!
You can hear more about how gratitude extends our happy place here: https://soundcloud.com/thankandpraise/gratitude-with-attitude-episode-2