Tips for High-Impact Teamwork: More Practical Steps for Mitigating our Fallibility

Tyler Reimschisel, MD, MHPE

By Tyler Reimschisel, MD

In my last article, I began offering several steps that could help us navigate our interactions with teammates and others as we recognize our perceptions of reality are not purely objective. That is to say that our brains do not simply absorb the 11 million data points that are being presented to them at any time. Instead, our brains select, filter and create a version of reality because processing all that data is influenced by several factors that we are largely unaware of. For example, unlike a data processor on a computer, our brains combine information from our senses (what we see, hear, feel, taste and smell), our internal sensors (emotions, bodily sensations, etc.) and our predispositions, lived experiences, culture, immediate environment and level of attention to create a “story” of reality that is based on a series of probable cause-and-effect relationships about our world (Epley 2014 and Storr 2020). 

As you can imagine, because our perception of reality is actually a bidirectional construct and not objective reality itself, the story our brain tells us as “reality” is prone to unappreciated errors. Given the subjective nature of the reality our brain constructs, we are susceptible to naïve realism (I see the world the way it is and disagreements with me mean that you are wrong, ignorant, or devious), an illusion of insight (I believe I understand others’ motives, intentions, and values better than I actually do), overconfidence in the objectiveness of our perceptual abilities and general obliviousness to the inherent shortcomings and inadequacies in our perceptions (Epley 2014). Please refer to my articles over the past several months for more information about how findings in cognitive neuroscience should influence how we interact with our teammates and others. 

From my perspective, the upshot is that an accurate and complete picture of our predicament should yield a heightened sense of self-awareness and a healthy dose of humility. In my last article, I offered several steps that can help us navigate through our interactions with others as we recognize that our perceptions are flawed and we cannot believe everything our brains are telling us is true, regardless of how emotionally certain we may be. In today’s article, we will consider additional approaches or steps that could help us mitigate our fallibility in this area. 

Once we appreciate that our brains are constructing a version of reality, we realize that team members can disagree because they have different perspectives, not just because someone is “right” and those who disagree are “wrong.” With this in mind (pun intended), I believe we should try to frame conflict management as the sharing of perspectives and not approach it as if we need to correct those who disagree with us. 

Too many times we go into a conversation about a conflict with the idea that we can simply educate the other side about the facts, make them less ignorant and then they will agree with us as they see the light of truth. This is actually a form of naïve realism that I mentioned earlier, and it is rarely successful. Instead, we should seek to share our perspectives and hear the perspectives of others. As I mentioned in my last article, a good way to do this is to ask “story-based” questions. 

But sometimes this is not enough. Sometimes our team members get frustrated because they still have not felt heard. In these situations, I encourage you to use the speaker-listener technique. I believe this was originally used in marriage counseling (Markman, 2001), but the approach can help address conflict within a team, as well. 

This technique starts with the first person sharing their perspective of the situation while the second person seeks to fully understand that perspective. Next, the second person repeats the first person’s perspective back to them. They rephrase the perspective in their own words, and the second person continues retelling the perspective back to the first person until the first person feels that the second person has accurately and fully stated the first person’s perspective. 

Next, the roles reverse. Now, the second person gets to tell their perspective of the situation while the first person actively listens. Then the first person must repeat the second person’s perspective back to the second person until the second person feels that their perspective has been accurately and fully summarized. 

Although this can be time-consuming, it is extremely powerful. The power is much deeper than simply knowing that the other person accurately grasps our perspective. 

This approach also fosters compassion, respect and genuine understanding and appreciation for the other person. Used within a team, I believe this is an excellent way to build psychological safety, trust and team cohesion. If you truly want to build these within your team, it takes an investment of time, and this approach is an excellent investment strategy to build high-impact teamwork.  

I believe emotional and social intelligence as well as psychological safety are two of the most critical elements of effective teamwork. They are also excellent conceptual frameworks to consider as you are attempting to mitigate your own perceptual fallibility. Emotional and social intelligence includes:

  • Self-awareness of your emotions, 
  • Emotional regulation of your own emotions, 
  • Awareness of how your team members are coming to the team’s work, and
  • Influencing the relationships within your team. 

The intentionality and practice required to increase your emotional and social intelligence will also help you address your perceptual fallibility as you become more aware of your own emotions and what influences them, how your emotions are influencing your team and their perceptions of you, the inaccuracies of your inferences about your teammates and where your perceptions about the team’s work is inaccurate or incomplete. For these reasons, I encourage you to build your own emotional and social intelligence.  

Similarly, fostering psychological safety within a team can help make it easier for us to address our naïve realism, illusions of insight and incomplete awareness of our incorrect beliefs. Whereas emotional and social intelligence is a skill at the level of the individual team member, psychological safety is a team construct. It is the ability to speak up, push back, raise concerns, and offer input or critique within a team without the fear of retaliation, retribution or punishment (Edmondson, 2018). 

Because it is a team construct, all members of the team who are at the same basic level of hierarchy will probably experience the same amount of psychological safety. By increasing the team’s psychological safety, members will feel more willing to be vulnerable about their incomplete perceptions or mistakes. 

As they talk through these misperceptions, they learn more about themselves, each other, and how their team functions. For example, they will learn about their own blind spots, where they are prone to manifest naïve realism and how their inferences or judgments about other team members were incomplete, inaccurate or frankly erroneous. 

As I mentioned for emotional and social intelligence, I encourage you and your team to be intentional about building your team’s psychological safety as it will help your team be more impactful, enhance your team’s social cohesion and increase your own personal satisfaction with your team. 

As I conclude today’s article, I encourage you to try to keep in mind that our brain’s interpretation of the world is awesome but not perfect, and we need ways to try to mitigate this fallibility. I hope that the handful of suggestions I have offered in my last few articles are helpful as you seek to be a better team member and your team strives for higher impact.   

As a reminder, several times a month our office is offering various ways for staff, students, and faculty to connect with each other and with individuals in Cleveland and at other institutions. The upcoming Connections schedule includes the following: 

April 5 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. EDT: Friday Night at the ER

Join us for a fun and engaging simulation that creates an opportunity for continuous quality improvement, system thinking, innovation and creative problem solving, distributed leadership and critical thinking and decision-making. Although Friday Night at the ER simulates a day in a hospital setting, it applies to any team or organization within our outside healthcare because it focuses on collaborating across functional boundaries to achieve system goals. The fee is $25, and it is waived for students. Breakfast will be provided. Location: Samson Pavilion, Room 139. Register here

April 9 from noon to 1 p.m. EDT: Connect through Play

Come to the courtyard of the Samson Pavilion to play board games with others in our community. 

April 17 from 10 a.m. to noon EDT: Teamwork Workshop on Feedback and Difficult Conversations

In this workshop, we will discuss deconstructive feedback and how it can be utilized effectively in a diverse team. Participants will practice deconstructive communication in difficult conversations. The workshop is FREE. Location: Case Western Reserve University Tinkham Veale University Center, Ballroom A. Register here

May 14 from noon to 1 p.m. EDT: Connect through Play

Come to the courtyard of the Samson Pavilion to play board games with others in our community. 

May 15 from 10 a.m. to – noon EDT: Teamwork Workshop on Conflict Management and Negotiation 

In this workshop, we will discuss a deconstructive approach to conflict management and negotiation. The session will include case studies, practical application of conflict management and negotiation strategies and role-playing with highly impactful debriefs. The workshop is FREE. Location: Samson Pavilion, Room 139, in the Health Education Campus. Register here

We believe these experiences will broaden your network and build stronger relationships. Please check out our Connections web pages for more details. The Huddle Calendar also lists upcoming activities.


Edmondson A. The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth. Wiley and Sons, 2018.

Epley N. Mindwise. Vintage Books, 2014.

Markman HJ et al. Fighting for Your Marriage. Jossey-Bass, 2001.

Storr W. The Science of Storytelling. Abrams, 2020.