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Beyond the Office: Psychological Safety in Personal Relationships

We all have relationships we wish to improve. The concepts behind The 4 Stages of  Psychological Safety™ can help us improve our relationships both at work and beyond the office into our everyday lives. This week Tim and Junior will get personal and discuss how recognizing and rewarding the vulnerable acts of others can make a positive impact everyone around us. This is part one in a two part mini series on this topic.

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Episode Show Notes

We all have relationships we wish to improve. The concepts behind The 4 Stages of  Psychological Safety™ can help us improve our relationships both at work and beyond the office into our everyday lives. This week Tim and Junior will get personal and discuss how recognizing and rewarding the vulnerable acts of others can make a positive impact everyone around us. This is part one in a two part mini series on this topic.

0:03:43 What is psychological safety? Psychological safety as we see it, is a culture of rewarded vulnerability, and culture is the way we interact. Junior asks the questions, can you separate culture and psychological safety? Where does culture live? What are the stakes?

0:12:11 Psychological safety includes emotional security and trust, but Tim and Junior explain why you can’t conflate trust and psychological safety.

0:20:57 What gets in our way? In many settings, family settings, with all kinds of relationships, and certainly in the workplace, you will be put under pressure and face trauma, stress, and strain. Even the best people in the world will be tested in terms of psychological safety in their personal relationships because they're going to find themselves under stress. 

0:29:01 Inclusion SafetyHow do we improve? Tim and Junior apply the first of The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety framework to everyday life. 

0:46:00 Learner SafetyHow do we improve? Tim and Junior apply the second of The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety framework to everyday life.

Episode Transcript

0:00:01.9 Producer: Welcome back, Culture by Design listeners. It's Freddy, the producer of the podcast. Today's episode is a unique one on a topic that has been personally very helpful, psychological safety in every day life. We define psychological safety as a culture of rewarded vulnerability, and there is almost nothing that will help relationships grow more than to recognize and reward the acts of vulnerability of those around you, and in this episode, Tim and Junior will help us do just that. In fact, Tim and Junior had so many valuable insights and stories to share on this topic that we doubled our normal episode length, so we've split this episode into a two-part series, and today is just part one. As always, you can find the episode show notes at If you find today's episode useful or helpful in any way, let us know and please share it with a friend. Enjoy today's episode on psychological safety in everyday life.


0:01:11.3 Junior: Welcome back, everyone to Culture by Design. My name is Junior and I'm here with Dr. Tim Clark, and today we'll be discussing psychological safety in personal relationships. Tim, how are you? 

0:01:22.2 Tim: I'm doing well. How are you doing Junior? 

0:01:24.1 Junior: I'm doing very well. I'm excited about this topic.

0:01:26.0 Tim: Yeah, are you ready for it? 

0:01:27.8 Junior: I don't know, I better be. There's a lot to go through today, I'm excited about it as we've had some conversations leading up to it, spent some time, just a basic outline. I'm very excited. I think this can be a very helpful episode to people, and for myself, I think these types of episodes help clarify my own thinking, and there are a lot of things that I can tune up, so I'm excited to figure out what my own takeaways are.

0:01:50.5 Tim: Right, so if you're a listener and you're wondering, "Hey, does this episode apply to me?" It does. It applies to everyone. It's universal. And so buckle up. I think it's gonna be a good conversation.

0:02:00.2 Junior: Me too. Many of you have probably drawn parallels already from our past episodes between psychological safety in a professional setting and psychological safety in a personal setting, today we're going to be more explicit about the personal and how psychological safety shows up for each of us, and some of our most important relationships, and the principles that we'll talk about today have helped me significantly in my own personal life, so here's my pitch, if you will. Listen intently, answer the questions that we're going to ask honestly, and I promise you that you'll walk away with at least one thing you can do today that will improve the relationships that you most hope to improve, and throughout today's episode, we're going to be asking quite a few personal questions aimed at introspection...

0:02:49.6 Junior: And we invite everyone listening to consider the questions, ponder the answers, because so much of the value in today's conversation won't come from what we're saying directly necessarily, but from the conversation that each of us has with ourselves of about these principles and ideas and how they show up in our own lives. So as I said, a lot of things that I need to tune up, that we all need to tune up, this is an opportunity for each of us to, as we say, crack ourselves open, take a look inside and be pretty honest...

0:03:20.8 Tim: No, I agree, Junior. We're gonna be talking about a concept, but this entire discussion will be about behavior, it will be about practical application, and so as we go along, hopefully it'll shake loose insights for people and write those down and think about the implications. Think about the steps that you need to take. That's what this is gonna be about.

0:03:43.0 Junior: So for those of you who listen regularly, we're going to do something that we do regularly once more, which is define psychological safety, for those of you for whom it's your first time, this may be news and for some not so much, but psychological safety as we see it, is a culture of rewarded vulnerability, and that's important to understand, it's an important definition, and it's important that we start here, a culture of rewarded vulnerability. So what is culture? Tim how would you define culture? 

0:04:12.1 Tim: Culture is the way we interact. Four words, the way we interact. Now, there are many aspects to culture, and you could probably point at some, and we could put all of those into the big container that holds culture, but everything comes out when we interact at that human interface, that's what's important, and that's why this operating, this working definition of culture, I think is very helpful.

0:04:39.8 Junior: Well, here's a question for you Tim. Can you separate culture and psychological safety? 

0:04:46.1 Tim: I don't think you can. Psychological safety is probably the best overall indicator, barometer, proxy for culture, for the overall strength and vibrancy and health of a culture, so think about culture, every human collective has a culture, and then think about that on a spectrum that runs from health to pathology. No culture is 100% at the health end. Perfect, healthy culture, nor do we see typically any culture that's all the way to pathology, so they're going to be somewhere along that spectrum, and so therefore, we know that psychological safety, it's not binary, it's a matter of degree, so we can plot that somewhere along the spectrum. I do wanna get back to the definition of psychological safety Junior for a minute, I hear many people say that psychological safety is a shared belief that it's safe to take inter-personal risks, we find no evidence that it's a shared belief.

0:05:58.9 Tim: It's an individual belief, you do the threat detection, you do the assessment, you come to your own conclusion. It's not shared. And as you know, we measure psychological safety on teams all around the world, we're looking at data, say you have a team with 10 people, what we find is incredible variants, often among the members of that team in terms of the level of psychological safety that they perceive, now, what goes into their perceptions? Well, a lot of things.

0:06:31.7 Tim: Their socialization, their lived experience, their personality, their disposition, their temperament, their confidence, many factors are at work to help them assess the level of psychological safety in a given environment, it's not necessarily a shared understanding or perception or belief, it's very individual. Now, we can measure that at a team level, group level, organizational level, but what is that? That's just aggregated individual data, so I just wanted to make that point early on, Junior, that this is an individual thing, you are the boss of the level of psychological safety that you perceive in an environment. You're the one that makes that determination. No one else.

0:07:27.4 Junior: And that flies in the face of the idea that there is some institutional or organizational culture that shows up the same way for every single individual, every single team, geography, department and function. That's just not the case. And so that's one of the nuances. There's not really even nuances, big block of the way that we survey, we survey at the level of the intact team, because not only is there a tremendous variance inside that team, there's tremendous variants team to team, even though they could be identical in form and function, in size, in geography, across all these other variables, we find that there's tremendous variants...

0:08:09.1 Tim: That's right.

0:08:09.3 Junior: And so how does that tie back in? Well, to me, back to the original question, is culture separable from psychological safety? Well, if culture is the way that we interact and psychological safety dictates the way we interact, no. They're inseparable.

0:08:26.5 Tim: That's right.

0:08:27.2 Junior: So then the question, where does culture live? Culture lives anywhere there are humans. So it would follow that psychological safety also lives anywhere there are humans, so psychological safety is not some concept exclusive to academia or exclusive to the workplace, or exclusive to healthcare or any of these niche applications that we've maybe looked at in the past, psychological safety is a human thing, and it lives above those other specifics. Any of those other variables. And so that's why I think this concept is so powerful, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to talk about this more broadly, because the concepts and the principles are universal, and so it would follow that if you improve psychological safety, your ability to create it, your ability to model and reward vulnerability that that would affect all of your relationships ever.

0:09:27.7 Junior: Any time you're interacting with another human. So what are the stakes? Well, any relationship you have ever. Those are the stakes, whether those move toward that pole of health or the pole of pathology, as you mentioned before, and there are some interesting differences between the way that psychological safety shows up in the workplace and outside the workplace. The principles are the same, but the practices and the behaviors can differ...

0:09:55.2 Tim: Yeah, I was just gonna say, Junior it's so interesting, where there are humans, there is culture. Now, you have to let that register for a minute, but we don't... We have never seen a case where, "Oh, there's a group of human beings or there's a social collective somewhere, there are humans. They don't have a culture." We've never seen that. That's impossible. There isn't one case where that's been true, where there are humans, there is culture. Where there are humans, there is a level of psychological safety, it could be high, it could be low, it could be somewhere in the middle. So they go together. Fish have water. Humans have culture. We swim in it. You can't get out of it. The only question is, where are you? What social collective are you in, which humans are you interacting with, but you can't get out of culture, you can travel between cultures, for example, you can get in your car and you can go from home to work, or from work to school, or from school to your neighborhood book club, or the food truck around the corner, but you're swimming in culture after culture after culture, where there are humans there is culture.

0:11:11.6 Junior: So think about the cultures of which you are a part, everyone listening, the cultures that are dominant in your life, is it a culture at home, the workplace, a social group, a community, where each part of bigger cultures that we interact with day-to-day, smaller cultures that may come and go, you create this fleeting micro culture in the checkout life, believe it or not. And that culture may exist for all of five minutes, but it's you're interacting in some form or fashion, and that can be healthy or pathological, so how does it show up in the workplace? We often talk about psychological safety in terms of risk-taking, in terms of opinion sharing, in terms of speaking up, in terms of innovation, challenging the boss, those are just applications of some of the principles of psychological safety that are most obvious inside a professional setting.

0:12:11.2 Junior: So outside of the office, how does psychological safety show up? It often manifests as a sense of emotional security and trust, we start to move in this direction when we pull it out of the workplace and talk about it more broadly, it involves feeling comfortable, feeling supported in sharing your thoughts, your feelings, your experiences with someone without fear of rejection or ridicule. So that's a difference there, just in the way that we set it up, in the way that we talk about it, again, principle is the same, application is a little bit different. So talk about psychological safety and trust. I know you've been chewing on this a little bit.

0:12:53.0 Tim: I have, and it comes up, people ask the question over and over again, "Well, hang on, we have... So we have trust, we have psychological safety, what's the relationship between those two concepts?" Let me see if I can lay this out. So here's the definition of trust, trust is belief in the reliability of something, the reliability or the truth, the capacity, the strength of someone or something. So trust then is a broad concept based on reliability, based on predictability, based on assurance, psychological safety is just a piece of that, it's a variety, or a type, or a component of trust that focuses on the relationship between two or more people. So trust is this broad concept based on reliability, if I trust you, then I have an assurance concerning your behavior and your performance related to something, the truth of something, your ability to do something well. So this is this broad concept of trust, but psychological safety is my assurance that when I engage in vulnerable behavior, you will reward that vulnerable behavior, not punish it. So do you see the relationship? Psychological safety is this component within this broad concept of trust, which is based on reliability.

0:14:33.8 Junior: I love the distinction between those two things, and so we could ask the question, could you trust someone that doesn't make you feel psychologically safe? And I think the answer is yes, you can trust someone that they'll get a job done or they'll be committed to something, or that they will give a concerted effort, but maybe the entire time they're doing that, they're poking you in an emotional sense.

0:15:00.9 Tim: Here's a good example, Junior, what if you have a surgeon that is a world class surgeon and is going to fix your hernia, you're glad you're there, you're glad that you are in that surgeon's care because that surgeon is so good, you trust that surgeon, but what if that surgeon has terrible bedside manner, is rude, is caustic, is ridicules, belittle, demeans. Does all of those things... You're not gonna have the psychological safety, but you do trust them in another sense.

0:15:39.0 Junior: Absolutely. So let's not conflate those two things. I think it's made a ton of sense to spend time here, don't conflate trust and psychological safety. They are two different things. So another difference in personal relationships is that the level of vulnerability we feel is probably deeper than in the workplace, and so there is risk involved in personal relationships, the downside risk is probably greater in some areas than it would be in the workplace because the intimacy is higher, right? 

0:16:15.0 Tim: I think so Junior, when we're talking about psychological safety outside the workplace, we're talking about the relationships that we have with the people that we care the most about with whom we have the deepest level of intimacy and connection, it's your inner circle, so to speak. These are the people that we rely on the most, these are the people that we love the most and are loved by the most, and so as you say, the level of vulnerability is even deeper, the potential exposure to interpersonal risk or harm or loss is greater. Does that make sense? 

0:16:56.8 Junior: Absolutely. So if we talk about the stakes, if we're successful, what does it look like? If we successfully implement psychological safety, we have a high level of psychological safety, in our personal relationships, we can experience a few things, increased trust and openness, greater emotional intimacy, better communication, better conflict resolution, increased empathy and understanding, a greater sense of connection and belonging, improved overall well-being in mental health. So that's a list of things that I put down. Do we want those things and are those reasonably linked to the level of psychological safety we have? Yeah, of course, they are. Of course. And so on the other hand, if we're not successful or we're just ignorant to the concepts or disregard them, we may find ourselves experiencing, and all of us experience this to some degree, but strained or damaged relationships, a lack of trust, emotional distance, communication breakdown, poor conflict resolution, misunderstandings and hurt feelings, isolation and loneliness...

0:18:00.1 Junior: Negative impacts on mental health, and I'm sure the list could go on and on and on, so many of us can probably point to our relationships in which those things are happening. So think about this for a moment. Let's say that you have a relationship where there's emotional distance or the conflict resolution is really poor, maybe there's some isolation, chances are, as we go through the conversation today, you'll be able to point back at those and say, "Okay, there's something going on here with psychological safety, there's something going on here with the way that vulnerability is being treated in this relationship that's causing these symptoms," and so looking at the stakes, I think is an appropriate way to frame the conversation because it does warrant attention, it's something that we need to actively attend to, because if we don't, then we get what? Culture by default...

0:18:53.6 Tim: That's right.

0:18:53.7 Junior: We wanna do culture by design, and that's not necessarily...

0:18:57.0 Junior: Well, it's not exclusive to the workplace. These cultures that we have that are beyond the office as it were... Need to be done by design, just as you would do culture by design in the workplace, you can't just let these things evolve and just flow and be they as they may, that's not going to work. If you want it to work best.

0:19:21.9 Tim: I think this takes us back because as you said, Junior, this is a crack yourself open episode where we're really trying to look into a clean mirror and do some systematic reflection, some self-inventory. And what we have learned is that in order to increase the quality of your relationships through psychological safety, in order to cultivate and nurture higher levels of psychological safety in your relationships... Two things have to happen. Number one, your self-awareness needs to go to another level. You have to be able to evaluate real-time the way that you are interacting, the way that you are communicating both verbally and non-verbally with others. That's number one. Number two, your powers of observation have to go to another level, that means that you are observing the way that your behavior and your communication is being received, you're watching, you're perceiving, and you're listening, and you're observing, because the response patterns represent data coming back to you. I don't know how you increase psychological safety in your relationships, if self-awareness isn't going to another level, and if your powers of observation are not going to another level, these are the fundamental tools that help us get there.

0:20:57.4 Junior: So let's talk for a second about why this doesn't go perfectly all the time for every human. Why does the pathology exist? What is the complication? The complication is that not all people and we could lump everyone into, myself included, have the respect for humanity or the level of respect for humanity that we should have, and that's by degree, and maybe there's a perfect score of 100 and maybe some are at 99 and some are at 32, and some are pretty close to zero, but there's a certain level of respect for humanity that would be advantageous for all of us if we shared that respect, but human history is not a story of that shared respect is a story largely of violence and conquest of subjugation and mistreatment, and that was the story for thousands of years of human history, and some may argue that today is not terribly different, you've mentioned that fear is a huge component of this and the way that that's been used as influence over time.

0:22:16.1 Tim: It has, it's been normalized in many settings, family settings, with all kinds of relationships, certainly in the workplace. So if you just think about this, do you interact in any settings or any cultures where fear has become normalized and people, they grow accustomed to it as a tool for influence, because in many organizations and throughout history, fear has been normalized as a primary form of influence I think we have to acknowledge that. The other thing too, Junior, is that even if you have good intent, even if you are a sincere, good, benevolent, genuine person, even if you're a kind and compassionate person, you are going to be put under pressure because life does this, the adversity is going to come your way, the trials, the challenges, the tests, the crucible experiences are going to come your way. What does that mean? That means there's trauma. That means there's stress, that means there's pressure, that means there's strain, and you're going to be tested to interact when you're feeling all of those forces acting upon you, that's what we're talking about. And so even the best people in the world are going to be tested in terms of psychological safety in their personal relationships because they're going to find themselves under duress, and then you've gotta perform, you don't just wait for that to go away.

0:24:01.3 Tim: As has been said many, many times you meet someone, you can assume 50% of the time that that person is in crisis right now, and so this is part of the human experience. The question is, how do we get better at creating psychological safety in that context, because often we can't just say, "Oh, we're gonna wait till those pressures, strains, stresses go away." That's not how it works. We have to live with those and perform in the midst of those pressures and forces, that's what we're talking about.

0:24:36.9 Junior: And lately, it seems that that's the default scenario, and maybe not even lately, but just life generally, there will almost always be something going on that will apply pressure, that will heighten and emotionalize, if that's even a word, the scenario.

0:24:57.8 Tim: Yeah.

0:24:58.9 Junior: It makes me think about the path of least resistance, and that's where so much pathology lies is in our tendency to choose the path of least resistance, and depending on what your goal is, if it's purely utilitarian or if it's purely self-interested, then the path of least resistance to power, depending on the setting, let's talk history is often just crushing people into submission, that genuine, sincere, healthy forms of influence are more difficult to develop and apply to reach that end, and that end may not even be reachable through healthy means.

0:25:44.9 Junior: And so I think that some of that behavior is predictable. Now, another interesting thing about this is that humans come... We all come with some hardware and then we get software downloads through socialization, and we are tremendously affected by that early socialization, that early programming, and that is very difficult to uninstall if we're gonna keep talking software.

0:26:14.0 Tim: Yeah, that's right.

0:26:15.2 Junior: But that's something that needs to happen over time, we need software updates and we need those to align more closely with the healthiest forms of influence. And so if you look at the behavior of people, sometimes it's easy to judge and say, "I cannot believe that you would possibly behave this way," but when you unpack even just a layer or two, you start to see, "Oh, it's fairly obvious why you would behave this way, look at what you've been exposed to, look at the way that you are socialized, look at the models around you that were all you had available, maybe you haven't seen what the healthy forms of influence even look like because you've been almost incessantly exposed to pathology and it may even be a matter of ignorance," and so I know we're wandering a little bit, but these are some important considerations as we look at why things are the way they are, why we do things the way we do things. And if we don't take that type of look, if you don't think from first principles and ask yourself how we got here, then I don't think you can really reverse engineer the problem and find the levers that need to be pulled in order to improve the situation.

0:27:30.5 Junior: And so that's part of this cracking yourself open is pull back those layers of your own life and see where did that pathology come from, was it some really early exposure that you never un-installed? Were there some things that some patterns, a workplace environment that just became normalized, there are a lot of these things that affect the way we are today, right.

0:27:54.0 Tim: I'm glad you said that because think about this, what you said, Junior, is right on, what if you didn't have models, what if you were raised on a diet of popular culture, especially in the last few years, where... What do we see, normalized, we see patterns that are strident and contentious and angry, there's incivility, and you're brought up in that environment, where are the models of compassion and patience, you may not have been exposed to those models, and so that's why self-awareness has to go to another level, powers of observation, have to go to another level. And in many ways, it may require you to reject certain strains of popular culture that have become so strident, so contentious, so angry and so hurtful, quite honestly.

0:29:01.0 Junior: I agree. So if this is how we got here and this is the state of humans for all of us, then how do we improve, how do we move away from pathology to more healthy forms of influence and interaction, how do we increase psychological safety? We wanna apply the frame of the four stages because this is the natural progression of human need that is born out in the qualitative, the quantitative data. And I think just all our experience, and when I say all, I mean all listeners, when we move through this model, you'll probably see how this shows up in your own life. Stage one is inclusion safety, and we ask a question, when we talk about inclusion safety that I think is a relevant question for each of us, and here it is, do you truly believe that all persons are created equal, and do you accept others and welcome them into your society simply because they possess flesh and blood, even if their values differ from your own, so that's the question we start with, and it's worth asking, it's worth asking frequently, and it's worth asking and sitting quietly and answering the social exchange for stage one inclusion safety is it plays into that question.

0:30:22.5 Junior: If you're human and harmless, I'm obligated to include you, and by harmless we mean you're not presenting me with immediate harm, not that you don't have the capacity for it, but you're not presenting me with harm, I'm obligated to include you. That's really interesting. And think about the world and the way it might be, if we could answer this question a certain way...

0:30:48.4 Tim: Yeah.

0:30:49.2 Junior: Really.

0:30:49.9 Tim: The other part of that Junior, so you focused on respect, the social exchange is based on respect, so if you're human and harmless, I'm obligated to include you, the other part of the social exchange is based on permission, permission for you... And think about this, we all grant each other or... Well, we grant or withhold permission for you to be your authentic self, this is the other part of that social exchange, so am I granting you permission, at least in our relationship, at least between us, for you to be your authentic self. This is so crucial for you to be able to feel psychological safety. If you feel that respect and you feel that permission, then you're going to perceive an environment, a space, a container, where you feel that you can be yourself and you can interact freely, you're going to feel that sense of acceptance and inclusion and belonging, that we also desperately need.

0:32:00.1 Junior: That's an interesting way to frame it. I think about some of the acts of vulnerability inside stage one. Sometimes if we ask the question, do you feel like you can be your authentic self and someone says no. What does that mean in practical terms? It means that they, in an effort to be their authentic selves, ventured into this area of vulnerability and were punished enough times that they didn't do it anymore, and so who is the person in that scenario over a long period of time, are they their authentic selves? No, they're a version of themselves that no longer gets punished. That's a really interesting way to look at this. And so the dissonance between those two people who you believe yourself to be authentically and who you show up as in whatever social collective it is, is a function of how that vulnerability has been treated over time, and there may be scenarios in which the way you show up and your true authentic self is one-to-one, and you can be yourself, you can be authentic, and there are scenarios in which it may seem like they are two entirely different people based on the way that that has it happened over time, and I'm not saying that that's entirely the fault of the environment, we all bear some responsibility, but generally, it's a function of what's going on there, so what are some of these acts of vulnerability that could be punished, admitting that you've been offended.

0:33:37.8 Junior: Here's a list, apologizing, correcting someone's pronunciation of your name, setting and holding boundaries, sharing something about your personal life, sharing a problem or challenge, speaking in public, telling another person about the impact of their behavior on you, even reading a prompt, these things are all acts of vulnerability that arguably go in stage one, they could be rewarded or punished, and whether or not they're rewarded or punished is what dictates the environment inside stage one.

0:34:12.0 Tim: I love what you said, Junior, about if your authentic self is going to be punished and not rewarded, then you're going to bring a different version.

0:34:20.8 Junior: Yeah.

0:34:21.9 Tim: Is that not what we do? We have names for that. We have words for that. We call it armoring, we call it masking. We call it modulating, we call it code-switching, that's what people do. But again, it goes back to what are the ultimate benefits and blessings of psychological safety, you mentioned a bunch, how about these crowning benefits that include greater personal efficacy, confidence, happiness, fulfillment in your relationships, that's really what's on the table here. That's what's at stake here.

0:34:57.3 Junior: So I wanna invite all of us, here's one of these points of introspection, to think about those with whom you interact the most, it could be family, spouse, children, parents, could be friends, could be social groups and communities. And I'm gonna go through a list. It's rather lengthy, but I think it's appropriate of some ways that we punish vulnerability inside stage one, we're guilty of at least some of these, but here's the list, interrupting someone while they're speaking or not actively listening to them during conversations, ignoring or not acknowledging appropriately someone's contributions, making someone the butt of a joke, talking behind their back, not celebrating a person's milestones or achievements, making decisions without taking into account the needs or preferences of everyone there, not allowing someone to express their individuality or pursue their interests. I'll stop there. We're halfway. I'll do the other half in a second.

0:36:00.1 Tim: Yeah.

0:36:01.4 Junior: Tim, what do you think about some of these? 

0:36:03.4 Tim: I think they're also human and so common, this is everyday life, and yet you may at first blush look at some of these and think that's not a big deal, what are we getting all worked up about? Because after all, we acknowledge that human interaction is a vulnerable activity, yes it is, but actually these small interactions in these small ways of punishing vulnerability, there's a disproportionate relationship and cause and effect, and the impact can be very significant, especially if it's a repeated pattern. That's what I would say.

0:36:43.2 Junior: Yeah, I feel the same way as I read through these very common... We see them all the time, these are not... A lot of these very egregious, they can be very subtle, but they have tremendous consequence. Here are some more, refusing to accept the friend or significant other of someone close to you, refusing help, being dismissive of someone's emotions, blaming, or scapegoating coding someone for problems or conflicts, using emotional manipulation based on your knowledge of someone's past, creating unrealistic expectations, holding grudges or keeping score of past conflicts, dismissing request for help, reacting poorly to mistakes and failures, not taking no for an answer, asking someone to try something new without clear expectations, ignoring effort and expecting perfection. Refusing reasonable requests for more resources, taking feedback poorly, shutting down candor, bad intonation or body language. So this is a list, there are like 24 things in here...

0:37:43.2 Tim: Pretty good list Junior.

0:37:44.7 Junior: Well, it's just off the cuff. It's a stream of consciousness. I was blown away at how easy that list was to make.

0:37:50.0 Tim: Well, and there's a lot more.

0:37:51.1 Junior: Exactly. You could go on and on and on.

0:37:54.0 Tim: That's amazing.

0:37:54.6 Junior: And some of these bleed into other stages, but these can be so, so pernicious dismissing requests for help. Think about some of these. So when we get down to brass tacks and we talk about that dissonance between your authentic self and the way that you show up, it has to do with some of these things. On this list of 24.

0:38:19.0 Tim: I just wanted to go back to acknowledge that we all make mistakes in our interpersonal relationships and in the interactions that we have from time to time. We don't intend to, we're not wanting to do that, but sometimes we do so what does that tell us? It tells us that we have a knowing-doing gap, or we have a believing doing gap. In other words, we have certain values and we cherish and prize the relationships that we have, and yet sometimes we damage those relationships. And so there's a knowing-doing gap. What do we do? Well, your moral position about the way you want to act and should act, and the way you value your relationships, those things should govern your behavior. But often, again, there's a gap we don't do as well as we want to do. So what do we do then? We have to keep working on this.

0:39:27.2 Tim: And as you said earlier, Junior, it can't be by default. We have to do this by design. We have to be very intentional. We have to keep practicing, keep at it to close that knowing-doing gap, it's constant. You wake up in the morning and you have to think about this. "How am I going to interact with the people that are most important in my life, the people that are most precious to me?" And when you do make a mistake, one of the great indications of progress is that you can recognize that immediately in real time and then apologize, go back, have some self-reflection and think about, "Okay, let's practice. Let's be deliberate. Let's think about this very carefully. Let's be mindful as we're interacting." So you hold yourself to high expectations and you keep working on it, even though you're gonna fall short here and there. That's what it goes back to, doesn't it? It's this iterative process of trying to get better.

0:40:37.8 Junior: Absolutely. I couldn't agree more. Here's a question that I've been thinking about, and I'm interested in your perspective. Here's the question. Can you influence those who don't feel that you care about them or feel that you value them or respect them? And here's where I came to on this after I was knocking around in my head for a little while. It seems to me that the only influence you have over people who don't feel that you care about them is pathological influence.

0:41:07.7 Tim: That's right.

0:41:08.3 Junior: I think that this is true. So what do we have? We have coercion and we have manipulation. If people don't feel that you value them, you are left with those two levers, coercion and manipulation. And so as we talk about relationships generally, and we talk about forms of influence from health to pathology, if you really want to lead, if you really want to influence and you want to stay as far away from pathology as possible, then you're left with a pretty straightforward piece of logic, which is that people need to feel that you value them for who they are as a human. And if they don't feel that, then you're missing the mark and you're left with pathology. So I wanted to share that it's kind of a light bulb moment for me in thinking about the way that I influence other people, and that, that is really why stage one is stage one. We can't move to these other levels with any sort of duration and longevity if we don't get this right to begin with.

0:42:19.6 Tim: That's really true, Junior. Coercion on the one side, manipulation on the other, this is the spectrum of influence. So we stay away. Okay, well that raises the question, So where do we go if we can't use coercion? If that's pathology, and we can't use manipulation because that's pathology, where do we go? What do you think? 

0:42:43.7 Junior: Well, we're left with, here's where I think that it becomes interesting when I'm talking or thinking about whether people care or think that you care about them. There's an element of discretion. It's their choice. They won't voluntarily follow you if it's up to them, if they don't feel that you care, if they don't feel that you have your best interest at heart. And so it's a combination of two things. The first is motivation and intent that speaks to what I think is most fundamental. They need to feel that you have pure intent, and then you have a few tools available to you that fall into the category of persuasion. Not persuasion in a manipulative sense, persuasion in the sense that I care about you, I have your best interest at heart. And that can sound a little bit paternalistic, but hopefully this is in collaboration, it's in concert, and I feel like this is the best way forward. "Have you considered this?" Then we start leading through questions and we open up to an entire suite of tools and things that we could do, but fundamentally, we need to first apply correct intent so that they feel that we care. Humans are very, very good at sensing intent. And then we move into the competence realm of staying away from the tools of pathology and staying inside the healthy tools of influence that revolve around persuasion. That was long-winded, but that's how I'm looking at it.

0:44:22.2 Tim: No, I love it. I'll give you an example. I was talking to... I met someone not long ago, right? You meet someone, you start talking, you start getting to know each other, you start building a rapport. And this person asked me a question, like a personal question, "Well, how do most people feel when someone asks you about yourself?" Well, you're happy about that. You're delighted with that. People like to share who they are and their story most of the time. And this gentleman asked me a personal question and I started to answer it, and I got maybe a couple of sentences into my response, and he looked away and I could tell that he wasn't paying attention. He wasn't interested.

0:45:09.8 Junior: No.

0:45:10.5 Tim: Even though he had asked me the question. So it must have been kind of perfunctory for him. He was going through the motions. It was ceremonial but as soon as I saw him look away and he wasn't paying attention any longer at that moment, I said, "Oh, okay. I get it. I got it." And I was done.

0:45:33.9 Junior: Yep. Got it.

0:45:34.9 Tim: I got it.

0:45:35.6 Junior: Thanks.

0:45:36.1 Tim: Thank you.

0:45:36.8 Junior: And does that not dictate, at least the next few interactions? 

0:45:41.0 Tim: Oh yeah.

0:45:42.8 Junior: That's not something that's terribly easy to come back from.

0:45:47.4 Tim: No.

0:45:47.6 Junior: And it's similar to breaches of trust, right? Long time to build, very easy to mess up, and that set the tone for the relationship between you two generally.

0:45:58.5 Tim: That's right.

0:46:00.9 Junior: I think that's very interesting. So we've spent quite a bit of time here in inclusion, safety, and that's on purpose. We're not going to spend as much time on the subsequent stages, but this one is key and it's where so much of this goes wrong. So really worth thinking about and opening up and looking at our motivation and the tools we're using. So let's go to stage two, learner safety and ask this question. Without bias or discrimination, do you encourage others to learn and grow, and do you support them in that process even when they lack confidence or make mistakes? I love this question.

0:46:36.4 Tim: That's a penetrating question, Junior.

0:46:38.2 Junior: It's a very penetrating question. And the social exchange for stage two is encouragement to learn in exchange for engagement in the learning process. One of the questions that we have had many times is, who goes first in learner safety? Is the one that's providing the learning, do they go first? Is it the student? If we're gonna call it a student, do they have to go first? And our position on this kind of informs stage two generally, which is this idea of encouragement and then the qualifier at the end, even when they lack confidence or make mistakes. So think about your lives personally and professionally. You've probably interacted with people that are coming out of traumatic experiences, or let's just call 'em less healthy cultures. Are they going to be willing to start asking questions and making mistakes and really jumping in right off the bat? 

0:47:42.8 Junior: Chances are no. So they're going to require some encouragement from the environment and some support as they dip their toes in and get started. And if that isn't a safe environment for them to do that, if they're not getting the encouragement, then I don't think we're gonna have good outcomes. And that encouragement, as I see it, is one of the most key pieces of this because the environment may otherwise be safe. All else equal, if you don't have the encouragement, it's likely that the person, well, some, won't engage to find out that it's actually healthy. And so they need kind of that motivation and kickstart.

0:48:24.5 Tim: Yeah. They really do. And this comes down to, again, very small, seemingly insignificant, everyday common interactions where we talk with each other, we ask each other questions. It's one thing to do this in the workplace, but we're talking about doing this with outside of the workplace, with the people that we care about the most, or as it could be in school or with a group of friends, or in some kind of social setting or social gathering and it's informal, right? It's all, most all of it is in the context of informal interaction. Now at school, it's a structured learning environment, we get that. That's a little different, but it's still just as important. Junior, I think you're the one that, I think you told me about an example way back in, I don't know, Junior High, high school with a teacher and spelling a word or something and how... And you still remember it to this day. [laughter]

0:49:29.7 Junior: Oh, I wish it were Junior high or high school. It's third grade.

0:49:32.8 Tim: Oh, it was third grade. Okay.

0:49:34.0 Junior: It was third grade. This etched into my memory, like it were a stone. And I remember... You don't remember a lot from third grade. You don't remember a lot from that era, and I won't even say it for some reason, now I know exactly why. I was a reader and I came across a word that I didn't know, which was deteriorate. And I went, and at some point, who does this in third grade? I don't know. Maybe this speaks to my eccentricity. I go up to the teacher and I ask her, "How do you spell deteriorate?" And she looked at me and she said, "You don't even know that word." And didn't even subsequently tell me how to spell it. She's, "You don't even know that word." And I just left.

0:50:22.0 Tim: It was a rebuff.

0:50:22.4 Junior: Yeah, I just sat down, I'm in third grade. Like, "Oh, okay. I guess I will never ask you any other question ever again, ever."

0:50:32.2 Tim: And that's how you felt, right? 

0:50:33.9 Junior: Yeah, yeah. And so I didn't. It makes me think about just how nuanced this can be though, because when you talk about socialization, you talk about cultures, I think about, I have children, and let's consider the difference. If one of my children comes to me and says, "Hey this is a piece of schoolwork I did or I had a test," and I ask, "Oh, what did you score?" Interesting.

0:51:02.0 Tim: Ah, that's the first question, yeah.

0:51:04.5 Junior: What am I signaling? 

0:51:06.1 Tim: It's all about that.

0:51:07.3 Junior: Then that's what we're looking for. That's the measure of success, right? 

0:51:11.5 Tim: Yeah.

0:51:13.7 Junior: And things as small as that compound. And if that becomes the pattern very quickly, the people, they could be children or not adults, same thing. "Oh, this is what we value here. What was the quarterly number?" "This." "Okay. Like, that's okay, that's how it works here." And pretty soon, humans start optimizing for whatever the expectation is, whatever the norms are incentivizing, whatever the patterns are. And this is definitely true in our personal lives and the way we interact with other people. They quickly see, "Oh, this is what we value in this relationship. Okay, this is purely utilitarian for you." Or, "Oh, I see. This is the lever we need to pull over here." And so this could be very damaging.

0:51:58.6 Junior: Learning is so fundamental. It's so, so, so fundamental. And it's something that should take place forever. It's not that you just, you come out and you learn how to walk and you go to some school and then we leave you be and you never learn again. You do that, you're asking for it in so many ways, but we're dictating that, right? Each of us, the level at which people are learning, and that could be a dangerous thing. So we all need to pay attention here, I guess is what I'm saying, myself included. And that's been even more poignant as I've been forming my own micro-culture in my own family.

0:52:40.3 Tim: That's right. Well, think about the acts of vulnerability that are connected to stage two learner safety in learning. There's a subset of vulnerable acts or behaviors that we engage in that are related to learning. Would you like to maybe take us through some of those, Junior and then we can talk about those? 

0:53:00.9 Junior: Yeah. Short list. Accepting help from someone, admitting you don't know. Admitting you made a mistake, asking a question, asking for help or advice, experimenting, giving the wrong answer, making a mistake and learning something new. So these come from an ebook called The Ladder of Vulnerability, and that will put in the show notes as a free downloadable for you. And we're going to be doing a subsequent episode, but I just pulled a few that I thought were poignant that kind of give us an idea of what types of activities fall into this category.

0:53:32.6 Tim: Yeah, that's amazing. So common. Again, everyday acts of learning vulnerability.

0:53:39.2 Junior: Here's a question to wrap up this stage. What are some acts of vulnerability that people in your personal life engage in with you? And here's an interesting piece. If there aren't any, there's a problem.

0:53:52.8 Tim: There's a problem. If people don't come to you for advice, if they don't ask you questions, there's a problem.

0:53:58.8 Junior: Exactly. And so that's an indicator for you. And if you can't point to very clear examples of people coming and engaging in those acts of vulnerability, asking for help, giving the wrong answer, learning something new, it probably means that you snuffed them out. And it may mean that you snuffed those out or suffocated those a long time ago and that people learned that you aren't interested in their questions about learning or about making mistakes or things in that category. And I don't mean that for that to be too pokey, but it's something that I think about too in my own life. We have to ask these hard questions like, "Are people engaging in these acts of vulnerability with me? If they're not, I'm probably the problem," right? 

0:54:41.5 Tim: Well, I've gotta give you some credit here, Junior, because I've seen when people come to you and ask questions, I think one of the great patterns that you display is that you don't try to be the oracle and say, "Oh, here's the answer." But your first response is typically, "Well, how do you see this? How have you framed this question or problem or issue? Tell me what your thinking. Help me understand your thought process so far." I've seen you respond with a question in return, which just draws that person in more, and that's the encouragement, right? When we talk about encouragement in exchange for engagement in the learning process, asking a question in return is a great way to engage that person and also validate them and also say, and help them understand that you're grateful that they came to you with a question and want to talk about it. So that's a pattern I see that I really admire.

0:55:50.2 Junior: Well, I appreciate that. And it's probably because I got it wrong so many times.

0:55:56.3 Tim: I don't know.

0:55:57.0 Junior: I don't know, but I certainly haven't got it right every time. And I'll tell you an interesting thing about that pattern in my own life that I found is that not only does that approach show the most respect for the person's humanity and agency, but it also leads to the best outcome because I don't have the context that they have. I don't know what they're solving for. I don't know what they want. I don't know necessarily what success looks like for them. And so someone might ask, "Well, what tree should I plant here?" And if you just go in like, "Oh, you need to plant this tree," you have no earthly idea. "Well, where are you? What do you want it to do? What's important? How much work do you want?" There are so many questions that we would need to understand in order to make a recommendation. And so I think answering questions at face value is one of the worst things that we could possibly do. I really do.

0:57:01.0 Tim: If I could, kind of encapsulate the principal here, and it's a paradox, because we think about questions and answers. But ironically, giving the answer often stops learning. Learning comes to a screeching halt when we give the answer. Because the person stops exploration, and we haven't transferred the critical thinking responsibility, we just gave them the answer and they're able to remain cognitively passive. Well, that's not what we want.

0:57:39.7 Junior: Exactly.

0:57:40.8 Tim: We're trying to empower people, we're trying to build confidence and capability. Now it doesn't mean that we have a lot of attitude with that, it doesn't mean that we're... We're trying to do it with compassion and curiosity, which raises the question, Junior, we're talking about psychological safety in our personal relationships outside of work. Think about the culture that you nurture in these environments, these non-work environments. Is it a curious culture? Is it a nurturing culture? I think of all of the science projects that I did with my children, I can't even count how many.

0:58:21.5 Tim: So what was the attitude? What was the learning disposition? What was the level of patience as you went through exploration and you went down dead-end roads and it became frustrating, and what about prolonged problem-solving where you just couldn't find the answer, right, this is learning. Because to be a great learner, you have to develop stamina and endurance in your problem-solving ability. You're gonna get some thorny wicked problems here and there, and you've gotta learn the skill of approaching the problem from every angle and reframing and reframing and continuing to bang on that thing.

0:59:09.8 Tim: Right? This is part of it. There's resilience in learning, and it takes time to get there, so the environment is going to reward you in that process, or punish you in that process, and as we say... I mean think about this. If you're repeatedly punished in the learning process with some people that you know and love and that are important to you, then eventually that punished, vulnerability, you become cognitively impaired, because you are emotionally disabled. That's the relationship. Because the learning process is both intellectual and emotional, you can't separate the thinking brain from the feeling brain, and this happens in informal settings and informal even, chance interactions, that's where it happens. In everyday life.

1:00:09.9 Junior: Absolutely. So you think of the stakes here and how the consequences perpetuate, even generationally, these have long tails of consequences, and the learning environment that people develop inside, will dictate probably, at least in some degree, the learning environment that they will then create or the lack of. So, learner safety is imperative that we think about this as we engage with other people.

1:00:43.3 Tim: I wanna make one last comment that really comes to mind, I think I'm thinking about parenting, and I'm thinking about the paternalistic model of parenting. That word paternalistic and paternalism comes from the word parent, but it's a pejorative term, it has a negative connotation. It means that you're over-directing and you're hovering and you're stunting growth, and you're getting in the way, and you're being the obstacle. I think I've identified a pattern in the most successful parents that I've seen, where they ask far more questions, rather than trying to be the oracle and giving the answers and being the repository of the answers, they ask questions and they demonstrate enthusiasm as they ask the question. It's a pattern among the best parents that I've ever seen. They're excited about the learning process, they're asking their children questions constantly, and they're showing enthusiasm through the process.

1:01:50.1 Junior: I think the enthusiasm is key, I think it's absolutely crucial. If they don't feel the enthusiasm and you go through the motions of asking a question or answering a question with a question. And someone asks you something and you say, "I don't know, what do you think?"

1:02:04.9 Tim: Yeah.

1:02:05.8 Junior: That is so different than saying, "That's a really good question. Help me understand a little bit more about your question, why are you even asking this?"

1:02:14.8 Tim: Exactly.

1:02:16.7 Junior: Right? And you launch into a dialogue.

1:02:18.6 Tim: It is, and it's the enthusiasm of joint and shared discovery. You're doing this together. Well, let me ask you, you mentioned the other day that you'd done this big kind of complex Lego project with your daughter. Was that enthusiastic discovery? How was that? 

1:02:39.1 Junior: It's an interesting question. There are a couple of things I would say about that experience. And the first is, "What are you aiming at and what's your goal of the experience?" Because if it's to build the Lego, you're not gonna have a good time. They're not gonna have a good time, you're not gonna have a good time. It's gonna be slow going, it's gonna be arduous and painstaking. And so you go into it, at least the way that I've found works best for me, is to go into it with the intentionality of this is a learning experience for you and me. And we're gonna do this together. And we're going to find joy and satisfaction in doing the thing. Not in the outcome.

1:03:21.2 Tim: Not the outcome.

1:03:22.6 Junior: Because we did it across a number of days. And I think that that's also important. And so the way that we did it was we were gonna do one bag a day. Legos come in bags, let's say there are eight bags for eight steps, we do it across eight days. That's one thing. So the whole orientation is not about the outcome. The next thing that I would say is that I didn't do anything that my child could do for themselves. So if there was a piece that they could put together, they're gonna put that piece together, I was not going to do it for 'em, the only time that I would step in, even if it was frequently, was in something that was a little bit too difficult or unreasonable that I expect that she do.

1:04:06.6 Junior: And so what does that mean? It means that it's slow, but what does that also mean? That the ownership that she felt of the outcome when we were finally done was way more than it would have been if I just did it by myself and said, "Hey, look what I built." Or if I just bulldozed through, did it as fast as possible, and just said, "Watch me do this." There are only so many more things that I can learn from Lego. There are a lot of things that she can learn from Lego.

1:04:37.4 Tim: [chuckle] A lot.

1:04:38.3 Junior: And so, why are we here and why are we doing this? So I could talk about that for a long time, but those are a few takeaways for me, I'm not perfect at that, but there are some things that I've learned and those are a couple that stand out.

1:04:51.2 Tim: Fantastic.

1:05:30.0 Producer: Hey, culture by design, listeners, you made it to the end of today's episode. And if it felt like we ended a little suddenly, we did. Tim and Junior have a lot more to say on the subject. They'll be back next week with stage three, stage four, and a few more personal stories on part two of beyond the office, psychological safety in everyday life. You can find all the important links from today's episode at If you enjoyed this episode, please let us know and please share it with a friend. Thanks again for listening and making culture something you do by design.

1:06:14.8 Producer: Hey culture by design. Listeners, you made it to the end of today's episode. Thank you again for listening and for making culture something that you do by design and not by default. If you've enjoyed today's episode please be so kind to leave us a review. It helps us reach a wider audience and accomplish our mission of influencing the world for good at scale. Today's episode show notes and other relevant resources related to today's topic can be found at And with that, we'll see you next episode.

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