Pay Attention to your Attention

Sometimes people look at me strange when I mention the importance of psychological safety during organizational change projects. It is a term that I borrowed from the writings of Edgar Schein. Until now I didn’t find a way to explain in plain English what exactly I understand under that term. Strange and expensive words come out of my mouth every time I try to explain and after the upteenth buzzword like "paradigm", "frame of reference" or "change readiness", you can see the blood run from people’s faces. I suck at explaining ‘Psychological Safety’.

So here is another attempt. Consider going to the dentist with children. There are parents who dramatize the event as it approaches and who ‘package’ the situation as dramatic. Most of the times their behavior is driven by their own discomfort with the situation. This tension sucks up all their attention and they transmit this to their kids. Most of the times the result is pretty devastating on the level of fear and tears.

Other parents pay attention to their attention as they know that their own behavior, words AND mindset influences that of their youngsters. I would suggest that their success rate on the level of fear and tears is higher.

The same goes for managers whose organizations are going through organizational changes. They too have a choice between paying attention or not. As their peers and team members are reporting panic, anger or disappointment they can either focus their attention on actions and solutions or focus their attention on persecuting, rescuing or victimizing (aka: dramatizing).

As a manager you need to pay attention to your attention as you are going through an organizational change. If your panic, your people will panic. Why? Because your people look at you in times of uncertainty and they read your behavior all the time. If you’re not paying attention to your words, gestures and mindset, then why should they get a grip on themselves? In times of resistance there is a golden rule: suspect yourself first!