Make it Safe to Talk

In a meeting yesterday with some strong technical resources we were doing some amazing brainstorming.  Each had an opportunity to express themselves; each felt comfortable chiming in with their view; everyone discussing the object of concern and possible solutions, not the opinions expressed by others.  In other words if an idea was mentioned and someone else wanted to comment, they didn’t direct their comments at the person, but instead at the merits of the idea.  And the merits were discussed logically, not in an emotional way.  As the PM it was important to always steer the conversation to the objective aspects of what was being discussed, even to reframe the comments as this helps to make it safe to talk.

It is always good to come out of a collaborative session like that and it makes you appreciate collaborating with others to achieve some challenging outcome.  That is what brings us together in the work environment, to create, to enjoy others creativity and to create something together that is better than what we would have created on our own.

Contrast that with another meeting I was in where one of the business area leaders made  personal comments or innuendos directed at the person originating the idea, or the leader would look askance or raise one eyebrow.  The comments and body language, while slight, and out of context would seem almost harmless, had a very damaging effect during the meeting.  It shut down creative thinking and it stymied collaboration.  People stopped contributing and it ruined the atmosphere and synergy.

A meeting atmosphere that is not safe is not enjoyable and it kills creative energy.  It is draining, life-sapping and not an experience people enjoy.  The role of the PM is to strive to  foster an environment in which it is safe to talk, safe to express yourself and a joy to throw out your ideas spontaneously without being concerned about being criticized.  The PM must strive to uphold the aspects that make it a collaborative meeting, make it safe to talk and make it synergistic and enjoyable work environment.