· 2 min read · Features

Ignore the big taboo of insecurity at your peril


Organisational culture is a beast fed by thousands of tiny interactions every day. And the most destructive interactions – things like gossip, cliques, hiding mistakes or resisting change – are often the most subtle and ambiguous. As varied as these vices might seem, they can all be traced back to one root cause – human insecurity.

Buried anxieties like ‘I’m losing my influence’ or ‘I don’t fit in here’ drive these acts of destructive behaviour. They are so small they’re easy to ignore. But drip by drip, they all have a cumulative impact. Eroding your culture at a time when collaboration, engagement, innovation and risk taking are needed more than ever.

It’s a perfect storm. Destructive behaviours rooted in human insecurities are likely to be amplified by current events. And with people working from home it’s even harder for HR teams to spot and manage unhealthy behaviour. With many organisations planning for a future based on hybrid working, the complexities of remote engagement and collaboration aren’t going away. 

While the root cause of destructive behaviour is fundamental, so is the counter-agent: trust. A belief that the people here have my best interests at heart. A faith that I can be myself and it will be okay. And although sculpting organisational trust feels intangible and insurmountable, it is achievable. 

But how can HR leaders help people trust each other when we’re all working in our own bubbles? One way is by helping everyone develop their social and emotional skill set for more effective (and empathetic) interactions.

In a recent Everything DiSC survey of business leaders, while 98% agreed it’s worth their team’s time to develop social and emotional skills, only 9% strongly agreed that they know how to make that happen. 

To build trust, organisations must give every leader and team member the tools to develop the increasingly important soft skills needed to listen, take action, push back and cut slack at any given moment. Along with the tools to better understand and accept their own and other people’s insecurities, preferences, needs and tendencies. 

Time-tested methodologies already exist to do this. Including personality-based assessments, and training experiences that lead to actionable strategies and a common language for more effective interactions. But this presents us with a particular challenge when working remotely, as we are relational beings and learn social and emotional skills from other people. 

Independent online learning can only go so far when it comes to unlearning old habits and destructive behaviours and developing new, more healthy ones. 

Luckily technology has developed apace, enabling the transition to online assessments and virtual facilitation. With a skilled guide and digital tools such as breakout rooms and whiteboards, learners can receive the same depth of in-person learning in a virtual setting. 

But how to create individual, cultural and systemic change that lasts? We have known for a long time that successful learning must include reinforcement. And this is particularly the case with soft skills that need repetition and lots of practice to bring about real behaviour change. 

Traditionally, this type of follow-up has been difficult to implement, but technology is changing that. We have learned during the pandemic that online classes are effective at generating engaging group experiences.

And that small, short-format follow-up classes, which were previously cost- and time-prohibitive, can now fit neatly into the flow of work. 

Technology allows for easy access to information about the preferences and tendencies of others, based on scientifically validated assessments, so that individuals can adapt to the unique needs of each person or situation they encounter. This is regardless of their location and in real time, as well as providing insights into themselves and actionable tips for more effective interactions.

With a better understanding of ourselves and others, we can slowly start to build trust. And with tried and tested techniques, and the technology to apply them remotely, we can predictably shape the culture of trust in our organisations. Because when we create a common language that bypasses defensiveness and leads to honest conversations, we reduce the size and impact that our insecurities have on our working lives. 

Mark Scullard is a psychologist and senior director of product innovation at Everything DiSC, a Wiley brand


This piece appears in full in the March/April 2021 issue of HR magazine. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.