A couple of years ago, good friends Robert and Letia Seaborn married off their daughter Owen in what most people in our small town of Fairhope refer to as the social event of the century.
Among the many outstanding traits of Robert and Letia, Christy and I are naturally drawn to their quirky sense of humor.
Here's a shot (pun intended) from the wedding that later turned out to be the greatest Christmas card we have ever received. . .
The only other Christmas card to rival the one above, was this dime the Seaborns dropped on us circa 2010.
I think you can see why Christy and I get along so well with the Seaborn family.
To be able to pull that sort of thing off, you have to feel PSYCHOLOGICALLY SAFE.
What IS psychological safety? Here's a good definition ". . . a shared belief that it is safe for interpersonal risk taking, and where a climate exists where people are comfortable being themselves.”
I would say that the Seaborns are psychologically safe. (Others might insert another adjective behind psychologically, but that is for another blog.)
I have another recent example of someone feeling psychologically safe--my niece Sydney. Study the picture below carefully, and send me your guesses of what Sydney was at this Costume/Trivia Party. I'll send the first person who correctly identifies Sydney's character an Amazon gift card! My family may NOT participate!
Are you starting to get a picture of what it takes to feel psychologically safe? People do not ordinarily behave in this manner unless they feel really comfortable, right?
But let's go back to the Seaborn wedding. I want to paint another picture for you--one where Christy and I did not feel psychologically safe.
It actually happened at the reception.
While the guests waited for the happy couple to arrive, the DJ began playing music in an attempt to lure people onto the dance floor.
After 10 minutes, it still looked like a junior high homecoming dance. Ghost town. Tumbleweed rolled across the parquet floor.
But then, the DJ spun this record.
And as the song started, Christy got all excited and said, "Oh I love this song! Can we please dance?" And because it is a slow ballad, which means no rhythm, dexterity, or hand-eye-foot coordination is needed, I was happy to oblige.
For 15 seconds, I swayed left-right, left-right--my signature move--with my gleeful wife.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a second couple on the dance floor. I noticed because their movement was not like ours. As I fumbled with my cumbersome two left feet, my counterpart whirled his partner around the floor. Their movements appeared choreographed, smooth, sharp.
I observed that my new dance rival sported tight black pants held in place with a snappy, matching cumberbun. His smooth black hair was pulled back into a man bun and his girlfriend pointed her knees and toes with every movement.
My competitive juices started gurgling. My face must have given away my inner thought of "So you think you can dance" because Christy squeezed my arm and shook her head no.
I followed her lead. We slinked off to the farthest, darkest corner of the reception in utter shame. Robbed of our special moment by Mr. and Mrs. Dancing With the Stars.
Nobody else ventured onto the floor.
Mr. and Mrs. DWTS felt psychologically safe. We felt psychologically defeated.
When people feel psychologically safe they feel comfortable:
(1) Sharing opinions
(2) Taking risks
(3) Making mistakes
(4) Sharing information
Christy and I were O for 4 at that moment. We didn't even want to share the dance floor with them much less any information or opinions. We certainly didn't want to take risks or make a mistake in front of Fred and Ginger.
Leaders, allow your employees the leeway to do the four items above and you'll have them dancing in the street!
As a post-script to this blog, there is a bit of irony to this story. Christy and I had not seen the video of the Ed Sheeran song that I have linked above. The video shows two people performing a very professional, choreographed dance--just like the two that danced us off the floor!
I guess I better polish up on my moves before Britton and Tyler get married next month!
Have a great week!