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Customer Experience

Why Aristotle is the game changer for your business


Psychological safety and how it could help you beat the competition

S1. EP3 - The CX Chat with Sandra Thompson

In this week’s episode we invite our first CX Educator into the pod booth. As a CX Educator Sandra aims to help people understand what Customer Experience is by looking at behavioural science, neuroscience and emotional intelligence.

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Ever wondered how psychologically safe you are in your working environment? Why not take the S.A.F.E.T.Y Assessment and Top Domain test.

Guest Speaker - Sandra Thompson

Sandra Thompson

Sandra Thompson is a published consultant, lecturer, course leader and trainer in the field of customer experience. Her company, Exceed all Expectations, is a CX consultancy with past clients including Waitrose, Arsenal Football Club, Aldermore Bank, Network Rail and Vodafone. Connect with Sandra on LinkedIn.

When you look at psychological safety it’s much deeper and it’s more interconnected. I’m going to give you a couple of questions which I hope will bring that to light.

When you think about trust, the kind of the question that someone would ask themselves is, will you give others the benefit of the doubt when you take a risk, so will you give others the benefit of the doubt?

When we think about psychological safety, the question is different because it’s around, will others give you the benefit of the doubt when you take a risk, and it’s quite subtle, but it means that you’re relying on others and you’re again part of a collective, and how you fit within that group.

It’s not around what’s happening just with you. It’s how you play out and how others respond to that. When you think of psychological safety. It’s far more interdependent, there’s far more risk if you don’t get it right.

Discussion Topics

  • What’s Aristotle got to do with business?
  • One of Aristotle’s most important quotes is ‘Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom’ how does that relate to the art of good management?
  • What are the tell tail signs of a high performing team?
  • How durable do these teams tend to be and what are the ways they can be disrupted?
  • What is psychological safety and who came up with the concept?
  • Who can you judge whether your feeling safe and how does his concept differ to trust?


Simon Thorpe – Welcome to CX chat with Matt and Simon, the podcast series where we talk about the hottest topics in customer experience. My name is Simon Thorpe and as ever I’m joined by my colleague, Matthew Dyer, and we always like to describe ourselves as two chaps with big opinions and bags of enthusiasm for the CX industry. Matty, how are you? The sun is shining, and it’s the Friday afternoon before the weekend. What’s been going on this week?

Matt Dyer – Well, it is Friday. I’m in Aberdeen, and it’s actually sunny. So I’m looking forward to finishing the week off with an interesting podcast. So yeah, all good.

Simon – Very good. Well, I think it is going to be an interesting one this one because, as hopefully our listeners know we have so far had service design experts on the podcast we’ve had learning and people experience gurus, but today, we are thrilled to be welcoming our first CX educator. So just to give her a warm introduction, Sandra Thompson is a lecturer at Pearson Business School in London teaching People Management and Leadership, Professional Behaviours and Principles of Business. She’s also a well known CX consultant and owner of the company Exceed All Expectations. A big welcome Sandra, how are you?

Sandra Thompson – I am super brilliantly well, thank you very much. What a fantastic day it is.

Simon – Absolutely. Genuinely, we’re thrilled to have our first CX educator on the podcast. What in your world? What does that mean? What is a CX educator?

Sandra  – What a great question. So I think what it is because I’m still learning right, is all around trying to help people understand what customer experience is and to try and bring some new aspects to it. So when I teach undergraduate when I teach postgraduates, I’m looking at the science, I’m looking at behavioural science, neuroscience and this stuff, emotional intelligence. So kind of getting people onto a slightly different page with some of the operational stuff they already know.

Read the full transcript

Matt – That sounds really interesting. So I’ve got a question for you Sandra to lighten it before we start, I got asked this question the other day, it’ll be interesting to get your taken how you answer it. What’s been the best moment of your working career?

[What’s the best moment of your working career]

Sandra – Wow, do you know, that’s a really easy, that’s a really easy question to answer. Actually, it goes back quite a number of years and this is the power of emotion right to leave an indelible mark on you. I remember working in the airlines I remember working for a frequent flyer programme. This is going back some time now and I was looking after gold card members and silver card members, and I was invited by ChildLine to see if I could muster up some special prizes for an auction and because my boss was pretty laid back and I got all my work done, I was given the opportunity to work with all the partners that we had we had we worked with hotel partners, airline partners, car hire. And we put together this package because these partners were so generous a worldwide trip that ChildLine in Edinburgh was able to auction. And I think that that was actually the highlight of my career is using the influence I had the relationships that I created to get something that was completely not work related to do something great. It’s it’s still comes back to me all these years and it just felt so empowering to do something to give back.

Matt – That’s a great story.

Simon – That is a beauty. It’s a beauty to start with hope people are gonna struggle to top that one. [Laughs] So, Sandra, when we were chatting about what we might talk about in today’s podcast, you came up with probably our most novel theme that anyone suggested as well, so far, so, so we’re gonna be talking about why Aristotle is the game changer for your business, and psychological safety and how it could help you beat the competition. Now, I remember when you very kindly sent me some suggestions. And that one just jumped out at us as like, what is that? What? You know, I hadn’t heard Aristotle being used in those kind of terms. You know, I wasn’t sure what kind of approach he would go to come at. And it’s a really interesting subject, but for the benefit of the of the listeners, can you just explain to you what does Aristotle what, what’s it got to do with business? Well, you know, where, where does that come in?

[Who Aristotle was and what he stood for]

Sandra  – So there’s two things, actually, the first thing is, who Aristotle was and what he stood for. Again, some research that I did trying to dig out exactly, who is this guy? His name keeps coming up. Come on this What was it? What was it all about? And what he really stood for the thing that really resonated with me was some of the writings that he wrote about 300 about actually 200 works, of which there’s about 31, still in circulation. But he had this thing that if you know yourself, then that’s the beginning of all wisdom. And I think that for what he stands for, it’s the reason why Google named a specific project after him. So in 2012, they came up with a project called Project Aristotle. And that was all around psychological safety, which is how individuals feel safe, secure and confident enough to bring their full selves forward. So we think about what he stands for, in addition to all of the wonderful things that he wrote about he was all around self awareness, and how Google grasped that name because what he stood for absolutely typified what they were trying to achieve with their particular project, Aristotle, which was all around high performing teams.

Matt – Yeah, that’s a really interesting concept and approach because I think when you think about a lot of managers that get roles, they’re not necessarily people who are best placed, or kind of understand potential themselves that well. So it must be quite hard and challenging for them to then kind of manage teams, when they can’t really work out who they are themselves. I don’t know, Simon, what’s your, what’s your thoughts?

Simon – It’s really interesting, actually, I am, well, first of all, when Sandra suggested this, I felt really quite silly, because I wasn’t entirely sure who Aristotle was, so I’d heard of him and probably in a pub quiz somewhere. And it’s one of the brilliant things about podcasts is you then go on after to go and do you can do your research and learn more and more about the topic and to your point Matty about, yeah, the management structure, I think that’s really interesting in the world that we operate in particularly contact centres where, nine times out of 10, becoming a manager is usually on the strength of being a good performer as an advisor or an agent and there’s often very little coverage or support for people to become managers. And in any kind of training that I’ve witnessed for that management layer tends to be very functional, very structural, but it doesn’t necessarily deal with the emotion, something we’ve talked about on previous podcast before. So giving that psychological safety. And, you know, I’d love for Sandra to draw out a bit more about the psychological safety, but you know, feeling like you can be yourself and put forward ideas. I think a lot of managers would probably struggle to create that and empower the teams to do it.

Sandra – It is so true. I mean, when I think about the times when I’ve been put into management positions, I kind of got the hang of it. And I did get some training, but there wasn’t an awful lot around how people feel, how people respond to stuff, you know what people’s value sets are, and how it’s easy to influence someone, both negatively and positively, depending on, you know, what’s important to them, and some of the things they may have experienced in the past, which potentially create blockages. I mean, there are so many times where managers think or they perceive that someone’s just being awkward, or someone isn’t really got the right mindset. But in fact, when you think about psychological safety, we’ll talk about it in a bit more detail. When you think about this area. It can unlock a whole bunch of insight about people, which means that they really feel heard. They feel valued, and you really get to some of the potential opportunities that people could be doing, they could be doing more of some stuff, if only you knew what kind of ticks the boxes and also wound them up.

Simon – Do you think it plays into, we’ve already gone off on a tangent I didn’t, I didn’t expect, but this is actually something really close to my heart Sandra. But I’m a big fan of Dan Pink and his intrinsic motivator model. And the idea that far more than bonuses and pay is a driver of motivation. It’s that feeling of, of belonging, playing a part in the success of the business contributing and having some ownership of your own development that feels like this, this complements what you’re talking about in terms of this psychological framework and this, this confidence in the environment you’re in.

[Autonomy, purpose and Mastery]

Sandra – Yeah, you’re absolutely right, all of these things are linked in some way. So he wrote a book called drive and within that he talks about motivation of which autonomy. I’ve got to remember this now, autonomy, purpose, are really really important. Autonomy, purpose…

Simon – Mastering, isn’t it?

Sandra – Mastering, yes Mastery comes to mind. And in fact, how can you as individuals, as human beings working with one another, how are you going to be able to give people free rein to do stuff, if you don’t feel that confident in them, or they don’t feel confident in you. And again, if you can crack this psychological safety piece, it’s highly likely that someone’s gonna want to step up, they’re gonna want to master something, and they’ll be categorically clear on how they can deliver against the purpose. So you’re right. I think all of these things are connected.

Matt – And just in terms of companies that are actually doing this is that many, or from your experience?

Sandra – I think I think there’s a growing number of companies that are doing this. Interestingly, I did a bit of work with Network Rail a number of years ago, and we went through quite a big piece of work with them, where they were going through one particular division of Network Rail up in Milton Keynes. And we were looking at self awareness, we were looking at the ability to communicate with one another, and actually to be more courageous and slightly more vulnerable. I mean, this was with a bunch of engineers, for goodness sake, who are normally known for being quite matter of fact, and quite functional. But when you change the purpose from getting this bit to fit, but that bit through to something like saving lives, it changed the conversation completely. So you found that they were motivated by that higher purpose that they might have lost sight of. And all of a sudden, different types of conversations were happening and people understood one another far better for what they were comfortable with and those that they weren’t. So, you know, that’s that’s just one example where I’ve seen a transition is is quite incredible, actually.

Matt – Yeah, it’s impressive that you can get an organisation like that with the kind of the fixed while you’d have thought before, fixed mindset to kind of embrace it so well. So that’s yeah, that’s really interesting.

Simon – We find ourselves right now in some some very odd times with, with a lockdown and, and everything going on in the world. And I just wonder, Matty, I don’t know what you think about this, but it feels to me, like everyone is probably having time to reflect on what they want out of life. I think Sandra hit on something really interesting around values. You know, what it is for my family, what it is for, you know, the things that I support and get out of life. And I just wonder how, you know, how much these companies that aren’t looking in this sort of forward mind thinking, whether it’s about their employees or about their customers? How are they going to fare when we eventually come out of lockdown, because there could be a mass run to the, you know, to their doors where people have gone, you know what, this is not what I wanted it after all, and I’ve now realised it. What do you think, Matty?

Matt – Yeah, totally buy into that because I think what people stood for previously, that whole foundation is gone. I think spending time with your family, spending time at home, you start to kind of realise what is important to you. So we’ll see organisations, I think that can make the transition quite quickly and it might be a fact that they need to change what their kind of missions, their kind of ambition is, and maybe their values so that people can realign to kind of a working from home mentality. What about you, Sandra, what do you think I can bring?

[Interacting with brands. Interacting with people from work]

Sandra – It’s… so I can see a kind of parity between how I’m interacting with brands, and how I’m interacting with some people that I work with. And what that means is that those brands are those people who I’m working with who are doing thoughtful things, who are being considerate, who in inverted commas have my back at a time when things are so uncertain, and they’re fuelled with fear. And they’re fuelled with so many, not pleasant emotions. When someone steps forward and delivers something that makes you feel good, they’re going to have my business always they’re going to have that relationship, always, those businesses that let me down or don’t communicate with me very well or leave me stranded as it were the same with relationships in work, I’m going to be seriously questioning whether or not I want to be working with them going forward, because when the chips are down, and they’re not there, what on earth is that about? So I see it as choice and I see it as a massive opportunity to forge some really kind of deep emotional connections.

Matt – I wonder if there’s a link to the balance sheet in terms of which companies are offering a better level of service and those that aren’t?

Simon – See, I worry and I totally 100% agree with Sandra in terms of that, that, who’s got my back right now thinking about it, you know, who’s making those emotional connections. My worry is when we come out of lockdown and because of any potential recession, there will be a lot of companies that will forget about how important CX is and an emotional CX and they will go back to the kind of race to the bottom on price and slashing costs and, and we’ll be back to, not square one, but back to when you know some years ago where you know that that connection wasn’t there. I think it presents a huge opportunity but I’ve struggle to think that everyone is going to recognise that opportunity.

Sandra – I think I think we don’t know we have no idea what the what the future will hold. But I do you think that if people are presented with a choice, I think price will only exist for so long. So while they might be a winner for a short period of time, I’m pretty sure I mean, the behavioural science says that when you have extreme emotional responses to something whether they’re positive or negative, they become indelible. You don’t forget stuff like that. I think when the opportunity presents itself, people will make choice. And I do wonder as well whether new businesses will will pop up new startups might pop up out of nothing to give some of these price warriors a bit of a run for their money. Who knows?

Simon – Yeah, it’s gonna be very interesting indeed. Let’s, let’s just come back to the, this this piece about high performing teams because I’m interested in that and that’s again very topical right now. What do you think are some of the telltale signs of high performing team Sandra?

Sandra – Ultimately it’s around people wanting to do the best for the collective. That’s, that’s often the case when I when I speak to my undergraduate students, I show them a short clip of a pitstop, its that like a picture is actually a short clip of a of a rally, um i don’t actually, rally cars, Formula One. You see, you see this group of coordinated, considerate people, getting a car refuelled, new tires, clean this, clean that do the other in something like 1.8 seconds. I mean, that is high performance when people are able to do their thing with others so in concert and be hugely proficient at it and there’s so much that goes on behind the scenes with that. So, partly in answer to your question, people have to feel like they can challenge one another in a healthy way, because everyone has to up their game all of the time. You show me a team who are able to do that, and for everyone to have a growth mindset coming back to your point earlier, and to ensure that they continue to beat the competition because they have the awareness, the organisational awareness and various other stuff. That’s what you see. You see a group of people who get on because they respect each other. They don’t settle for the status quo and they continually reaching for the next thing.

Matt – Yeah. So you think teams that are kind of perform at that level now that we’re experiencing disruption and things might not be coming into the pit and changing the tires are used to change them. They’re the sorts of teams will happily adapt because they have got a growth mindset, or do you think they will be challenged as well?

Sandra – I think I think with everything that’s going on, everything will be different going forward. I think that people will be looking for alternative ways of working. So this whole thing around remote working, I wonder how teams of people who would be placed in one geographical position will continue to be high performing. And I actually think that it takes leaders not only the people that have the title, but people who step up to keep that momentum going to keep people engaged and taking them to the next point.

Matt – Yeah, that’s interesting. Yeah.

Simon – Yeah it is it is. Yeah. I mean, the one of the things I wanted to ask you was was the the durability of teams? And yeah, Matty was touching on it there in terms of the disruption we’re going through at the moment. But what are what’s the things that someone should look out for that might push a team over, as in, you know, disrupt them to a point where they, they are no longer what you would perceive to be high performing, or in a growth mindset. Is that Is there anything that jumps out?

Sandra – There’s that there’s a couple of things that come to mind. And these are things that I have seen. It’s when a new member joins the team who doesn’t have the same value set. So someone has misjudged an individual and they end up disrupting the harmony between them. The other thing is sometimes if the leader of that team if they are in a hierarchical organisation, the leader of that team has some kind of personal intervention, which means that they are affected in the way that they lead. So there’s a big change in how they’re showing up. Those two things definitely disrupt, but I’m sure there’s more if I probably thought about it.

Simon – I think we thought we’ve probably all been in those situations, haven’t we, where, you know, everything feels smooth. And it’s, it’s running well and your relating, and then, you know, one is a bit of a cliche, but one bad egg comes into the situation and it can be so disruptive and change the whole dynamic.

Matt – Yeah, but but sometimes it can be that a value set has been set, and that’s the person has come into expectation, that’s what the value is. And then if the bit of certain behaviours not seen in terms of the value, you’ll then say, well, I’ll just put my own imprint on it. And that’s how I think it should be. So you’d think from a leadership perspective, you might have values, I don’t know, it might be one that you see, right? The value is that we can invest in training and that’s the mantra that we go with. But then, as employees come on board, and then they don’t see any training, then that doesn’t kind of align to what the organisation’s doing and then you start to see kind of drop off in terms of engagement and everything else. I think we’ve touched on that in a previous session, I think, really around kind of making sure that organisations kind of stick to their word, stick to their ethos is very important at times, like times like this.

Simon – Do you think that? What was the difference in your minds, Sandra, in terms of this feeling of safety? And and how does that differ to trust?

[Psychological safety]

Sandra – There is, there is a difference. So I think for a number of years, people have talked about trust, and lots of people have kind of danced around what they need to do to get trust. But in fact, when you look at psychological safety it’s much deeper and it’s more interconnected. So I’m going to give you a couple of questions which I hope will bring that to light. When you think about trust your kind of the question that someone would ask themselves is, you know, will you give others the benefit of the doubt when you take a risk, so will you give others the benefit of the doubt? When we think about psychological safety, the question is different because it’s around, will others give you the benefit of the doubt when you take a risk, and it’s quite subtle, but it means that you’re relying on others and you’re again part of a collective, and how you fit within that group. So it’s not around what’s happening just with you. It’s how you play out and how others respond to that. And if we think about teams, we think about organisations quite often, people will think of themselves and they’ll think of decisions they’ve made, and they’ll act often with just their own intention in mind. When you think of psychological safety. It’s far more interdependent, there’s far more risk if you don’t get it right. Hopefully, that that’s much clearer for people to understand the differences between the two.

Simon – It’s fascinating I mean, as you say, this it’s it’s so subtle, but it makes complete sense. I hadn’t I wouldn’t have thought of that in a million years. But yeah, that is really helpful getting the the two comparable questions to ask yourself.

Matt – Yeah, just listening to I’m just trying to process it myself. [Laughs] Really think that back into experience I’ve had within the business?

[Test how psychologically safe you are in your working environment]

Simon – Is there anything I mean, for the listeners that are tuning in is, is there other than asking yourself that question Sandra? Is there any kind of little tests that you can do or things that you can be thinking about to test how psychologically safe you are in your working environment?

Sandra – Yeah, absolutely. And in actual fact, I kind of came across this particular test by accident, there’s a there’s a really brilliant book on this topic. It’s called psychological safety, no surprises there but they have a model called the safety model. And the word safety is an acronym for a number of other terms, but you can go on to this website, and you can actually I could probably give you the address or you can include the address in the write up, but you take this test it’s about 50 questions, it takes a little while. And once you get those results, out pops the top thing, the top safety domain as they call it, and when I’ve run this with my postgraduate students, and then we come out with different domains, it creates an amazing conversation because all of a sudden, you’re having a conversation about what they truly value. So anyone who’s interested, it’s a free test, you can do it anytime and out pops the domain and it could be maybe something you could do with your close team just to see what the results are and have a conversation about what those domains mean.

Matt – Yeah, cuz I guess that comes back to when you said do you knew yourself, but you knew others and by doing those sorts of things, you started to get a better appreciation on what kind of motivates them what makes them tick, I guess.

Sandra – Absolutely.

Matt – Yeah.

Simon – I love that. I know I’m gonna be doing have my glass of wine in the garden tonight [Laughs] Imagine the results of that are going to be fascinating Matty, you and I should do it and text each other with the result. [Laughter] That’s a great tip, thank you, Sandra.

Matt – Yeah.

Simon – So just just to finish with it, it’s been a really fascinating discussion this has and I think it really complements our next podcast theme, actually, because what we’re going to be talking about in next week’s recording, it’s all about agile customer experience, which again, really topical I think we’re all thinking about that. This idea of, of creating a test and learn approach, being able to empower people to fail, fail fast, succeed fast. Sandra, am I right? You know, in my head, you can’t do agile CX without creating this environment of psychological safety. But I might be barking up the wrong tree. What do you think?

Sandra – I think is absolutely spot on. And I think some of the things you’ve just said a very, very interesting so this point around failing fast. I understand the speed at which people need to move in agile, but in actual fact, it’s about failing at all, giving people permission to fail. So when you’re in a safe environment, you’re likely to want to take the risk, because there is no blame. There’s no accusation. There’s no scapegoating. There’s no aggression or anything like that. So in fact, you’re encouraged to keep innovating to keep test and learning, because you are a learning organisation. Those organisations that practice psychological safety are going to move at pace. And if you couple that with agile, they’re going to be beating the competitors out of the water, basically, those organisations where there is a fear of getting something wrong, there’s a fear of failure are going to be held back so there’s going to be no agility at all, I don’t think.

Simon – It’s gonna be really interesting, I hope you can tune in to that one and see and remember, we’ll get you back on and have a have a post agile discussion debate.

Sandra – Yeah, that’s right.

Matt – Yeah, I think that’s really important because all organisations are talking about coming out of COVID and moving towards agile but I think if they don’t address this point they as you said they’re going to struggle. So yeah.

Sandra – I think that I think a lot of them don’t fully understand what agile means. I think a lot of people think that agile is just fast, not flexible and you do have to have people feeling comfortable with that type of work.

Simon – That I think is absolutely so true. So true. Guys, we could talk about this, I think all day all night. It’s such a brilliant theme and Sandra we are so grateful for you bringing this this idea of a topic together for us and the brilliant expertise and you know the likes that you shined on the on the topic like we always finish our podcast every week. We want to leave our listeners with the the kind of top three takeaways things they can they can go away and research or do themselves and look at so when so we’ll go around the table Sandra, what would be one of your takeaways.

[Takeaway one – take the survey]

Sandra – I think if you have the time to take the survey, take the 50 questions, which actually should only take a few minutes, get a domain, get the idea of what safety means to you, perhaps encourage a few others that you work with to do it too, and have a conversation about it. I think it could be quite fascinating to understand far more about the colleagues you work with, and it might even change the way you work. It certainly will bring a different dimension to the relationships you have.

Simon – Brilliant one, Matty?

[Takeaway two – knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom]

Matt – I think from my perspective, the Aristotle quote, knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom, linked to kind of what Sandra just talked about, if you don’t know yourself, how can you know what other team members want or how they’re wired? So I think that’s really important.

[Takeaway three – listen to the TEDx Talk from Amy Edmondson]

Simon – Yeah, you’re right, maybe, maybe we should use this time to really think about it, maybe write a list. And I’m going to pinch one of one of Sandra’s actually she very kindly sent me pre this podcast is a load of extra curricular, reading and things to swat up on and there was a brilliant TEDx talk from Amy Edmondson. So my takeaway would be to go away and check that TEDx talk out because it was really, really interesting. So that’s the end of this week’s podcast. We obviously want to say a massive thank you to Sandra Thompson for sharing her expertise on this brilliant theme. Sandra, hope you’ve enjoyed being with us.

Sandra – It’s been a blast. Thank you very much.

Simon – We’d love to have you on again. So we will, we will reach out as we as we get further into our podcast series. Sandra you’re welcome to distribute your details and people can find you on LinkedIn and through your website. And and through the work that you’re doing there. I know you’re quite active on, on social media, is there any other places that people can find you or should we point them to, to your your LinkedIn pages.

Sandra – LinkedIn is always good. There’s plenty of content, plenty of papers, lots of recordings and stuff like that. So It will be a delight. Thank you.

Simon – Fantastic, Matty. Thank you. I think this has been one of our best.

Matt – Yeah, I’ve learned a lot today actually.

Simon – Well, thank you very much both. A big thank you to everyone that’s listened. We hope you’ve enjoyed it. We hope you tune in next time where we’ll be talking about the theme of Agile customer experience. Thanks very much.

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