Bring Me a Rock

My husband has a great analogy for ineffective communication that goes like this: 

It’s like when they say, “Bring me a rock”. You go outside, grab the first rock you see, and take it to them. They say “No, we need a different rock.” You go back outside, grab a different rock, take it back, and they say “No, not that rock. It needs to be gray.” And so on and so forth until you eventually figure out that they wanted a big, round, gray rock from the bottom of the Mississippi River. How were you supposed to know that? If they knew what they wanted, why didn’t they just say it? 

When people experience this type of interaction over and over again, they become less trusting and less engaged with the work. They start to feel like nothing they ever do will be the right thing, because it’s never clear what the right thing actually is. It’s a very demotivating work environment where accountability is high and psychological safety is not: the anxiety zone.

We should all be working to find the right balance between accountability and psychological safety. In other words, we can absolutely have high standards of performance and a people-first, inclusive culture. I call this Graceful Accountability. 

If you’ve heard me talk about Graceful Accountability, you know I’m serious about it. I’ve seen countless healthy and unhealthy teams over the years, and the difference is almost always the result of either too much “speak up” or too much “do what we tell you to do”. It’s either so relaxed and accepting that results suffer, or it’s so structured and rigid that people suffer. When we practice Graceful Accountability, we reset the balance. 

Next time you need someone to bring you a rock, meet them in the middle – figure out what it is you really need and communicate those expectations clearly (accountability), then allow space for questions, discussion, and gratitude (psychological safety). 

What are you doing now to find the right balance of accountability and psychological safety? 

Attending the UA HR Conference? Catch Jillian’s session October 27th at 11am. Learn more about #UAHR22 at 

Jillian Miles Massey