Much of our experience in work and life comes from our interaction with each other. How we are treated by others can either motivate us or de-energise us.

In the corporate world we focus on ‘Culture’. What is culture? In brief, culture is collective behaviour and is a very powerful predictor of performance and results. [Deloitte – The Leadership Premium]

As research demonstrates, a constructive work culture increases productivity, performance and results. 

So, what is does a constructive culture look like?

Here I offer you a line. Yes, a line. More accurately this line has an above and below set of behaviours. 

Below the line behaviours are driven by resistance and threat and can be outwardly demonstrated in such behaviours as; blame, gossip, avoiding conflict, aggressiveness, defensiveness, reactivity, cynicism, accusations, righteousness, not taking responsibility, favouritism, resignation, resentment etc.

Above the line behaviours are motivated by acceptance and trust and would be observed as; taking ownership and responsibility, support, constructive challenge, coaching, listening to seek understanding, compassion, recognition, curious questioning, hopefulness, positive attitude, patience, desire etc.

Now being human, implies not being perfect. All of us at some stage have been below the line. The point here is to raise one’s self-awareness and take responsibility. If we recognise or receive feedback that we are operating below the line, then we have ‘choice’. We can choose where we wish to operate from and the more effective choice would be to operate from a constructive place, above the line.

Take a look at the below the line behaviours, close your eyes and imagine what it would be like to come to work daily in a culture like this? Not very pleasant right! This is because sustained below the line behaviours cause a negative emotional response and the brain deems the environment hostile, or psychologically unsafe.  This sense of threat causes a defensive response, ranging from aggressive to passive, depending on situation and character type. Either way the net result is diminished performance and output because the brain structures shuts down perspective and analytical reasoning.

In contrast, above the line cultures are a joy to work in and deemed by the brain as psychologically safe, lighting up the reward centres of the brain, as we experience positive emotions like trust, curiosity, confidence and inspiration. As a result, we become more open-minded, motivated and resilient. Enjoyment and humour increase which enable the brain to function at higher levels of cognitive ability, thus increasing solution-finding and divergent thinking – the basis for creativity.

Now take a moment to reflect, “where are you operating from?”

Are you above the line or below? Do you need to take some responsibility and choose a different behaviour?

If you create a sense of psychological safety, you and your team will experience higher levels of engagement and create a learning culture leading to better performance.