Guide to Fostering Psychological Safety

Psychological safety in the workplace is one of the keys to a successful high-performing team. With this, it creates happy employees and a culture of inclusion and diversity.  

“There’s no team without trust”

Paul Santagata, Head of Industry at Google

As behavioural scientists, we believe in the true power of feeling safe physically, mentally and socially and the profound positive impact it has on the individual and your organisation. In this post, we are going to discuss what psychological safety is, why it’s important and the flow on effects of not having it in your team or work environment. 

What is psychological safety?

According to Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, “psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes”. We’ve all experienced some element of not feeling psychologically safe in the workplace at some point in our careers. 

Here’s a minor example of how it starts: 

You’ve just sat down in a strategy meeting with your team to discuss potential ideas for the next quarter. You have a great idea; you speak up and the person sitting across from you rolls their eyes and says something negative and shuts you down. How did you feel in that moment? How did you want to feel in that moment? This is a common issue that is felt universally. Moving forward, you will be reluctant to share any ideas or new thoughts you might have for fear of being shut down. This will then continue and flow onto many other aspects of your work. You’ll be hesitant to ask questions, reluctant to voice concerns and you’ll stop taking moderate risks. This turns into resentment, a lack of desire and poor performance. You will feel less engaged, less motivated to work and ultimately be putting your future at the organisation at risk. 

Why is it important to have psychological safety?

Psychological safety is critical to team success and provides each team member with confidence that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone for admitting a mistake, showing vulnerability, asking a question or offering a new idea. Psychological safety gives an employee the confidence to walk into work every day and tackle the tasks ahead of them with ease, agility and support. It is a mindset that aids productivity, engagement, creativity and knowledge sharing. It is these behaviours that lead to innovative thoughts, ideas and industry breakthroughs through sensible risk taking. 

How to Foster Psychological Safety for a Thriving Team?

Psychological safety is the overarching tool that aids in the development of strong, vulnerable and honest teams that become high-performing and builds up individuals and subsequently, the organisation. 

Humanise your Language 

Keep it simple! Using everyday language with individuals is key to establishing a solid communication foundation. This then forms the basis of all future interactions, leading to greater trust, vulnerability and safety. 

Seek feedback 

Feedback truly is a gift! Seeking feedback provides valuable insights into how your team is feeling, their current comfort levels and their sense of psychological safety. Actively seeking out their feedback shows that you are human and are more likely to provide what you’re looking for. 

Be Curious 

At our core, we all want to feel seen and heard. We want others to understand us. As a leader, you can leverage these basic human needs to establish trust and safety by constantly seeking to understand. By being curious about individuals and asking open-ended questions, you show each person that you care and want to know about their experience. 

As a leader, you want your team to feel safe, respected and valued. This is all done through the power of psychological safety.  

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