Managers view psychological safety as fluffy bullshit, but it’s very real

Ted Bauer
3 min readJun 12, 2022

Since some white collar work is “akin to chimp rape” and no one communicates all that well, stands to reason we need a lot of conflict management strategies. Oh hey and also: work is largely about relevance and protecting your specific perch, so that’s going to lead to even more conflict.

The traditional approach to conflict management strategies is:

  • Kick it to HR
  • Hire some trainer
  • Bring in some consultant
  • Talk about breathing exercises, etc.

Some of these concepts are moderately effective, but most flop. When they flop, you have people who become six-year co-workers who essentially hate each other, are consistently forced to collaborate, and drag down the teams they get put on. No conflict management strategies here. Rather, it’s just passive aggressive BS to the core. In other words: work for many people.

Let’s hit some new research and some old research on this.

Conflict management strategies and Project Aristotle

New article from UVA on conflict resolution notes this:

In 2012, Google launched “Project Aristotle,” studying hundreds of Google teams to determine what factors made some thrive while others faltered. One common denominator among high-performing teams was what Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson terms “psychological safety” — confidence that team members can speak up or even make mistakes and still receive support from the team.

Here’s a deep-dive on Project Aristotle, and here’s a paper by Amy Edmonson on psychological safety.

With this background, let’s deep dive.

Back to the relevance argument

Remember above when I said a lot of work is about wanting to seem relevant? Indeed.

A close cousin of that is not wanting to seem incompetent.

Basically the three worst things that can happen to you in an office, aside from something awful like a shooter, would be:

  • Getting fired
  • Your boss killing you…
Ted Bauer

Mostly write about work, leadership, friendship, masculinity, male infertility, and some other stuff along the way. It's a pleasure to be here.