Psychological safety can be defined as the ability to show and employ one’s self without fear of any negative consequences of self-image, career or status. It is really about making a team come together as one and creating an environment that boosts up everyone for success. The concept of psychological safety was first coined by an organizational behavioral scientist, Amy Edmondson, according to who psychological safety is a critical factor in understanding the concepts of teamwork, team learning and organizational learning.
The concept of psychological safety is not brand new. It was first introduced in the 1960’s and grew in popularity during the 1990’s, continuing to do so even today. Ancient evolutionary adaptations handicapped the strategic thinking of the brain by shutting down our perspective and analytical reasoning which is needed in today’s workplace. Positive emotions like trust, curiosity, good confidence and inspiration, broaden our minds and help us grow in various psychological and social aspects. We tend to become more open-minded, resilient, motivated, and persistent when we feel safe in an environment. When Humor and enjoyment increase, so does the solution finding ability.
The highest performing teams have one thing in common- psychological safety, the assurance that you won’t be punished if you make a mistake. Several studies have shown that psychological safety allows for moderate risk-taking, speaking your mind, being curious and creative, and sticking up for what you believe in — types of behavior that leads to great success. Psychological safety in a workplace is all about creating such an environment where every employee feels safe and accepted.
Ways to create Psychological Safety –
There are several ways to identify if your workplace is psychologically safe or not. For example, in an unsafe work environment it is likely that any mistake you make will be remembered and permanently held against you. Similarly, if you’re in a meeting with people where you cannot speak up your mind because of the fear of being judged, that environment is not psychologically safe. Below are some simple ways to create psychological safety in your workplace which may have surprising effects on your people and your workplace.
Be a leader ‘for’ everyone not ‘of’ everyone –
Treat others as you would like yourself to be treated. A good leader must always take time to ask the team members about their preference regarding things like frequency of check-ins, mode of communication, feedbacks, etc. It is important for a great manager to know what others want and how they prefer to be treated in the workplace. Some of the typical indicators of environments that suffer from poor psychological safety include employees feeling uncomfortable talking about their problems and disagreements, and finding it difficult to open up. It has been proven that team members are particularly aware of the behavior of their leader and their reaction to events influences other team members and their perception.
Always welcome curiosity –
Nurturing a curiosity culture is important because it makes people more present in the journey, more creative, better at communicating with each other and more adaptive to what is happening when there are obstacles on the path. Curious employees are always more engaged. These are all very valuable outcomes of promoting a culture of psychological safety.
Promoting healthy conflict –
We should strive to create situations for the healthiest form of conflicts by asking questions in a way that allows others to feel that you respect them and are only debating them rather than offending or judging them because of their ideas. Doing so promotes a healthy conflict and makes other people fearless of sharing their ideas which they thought to be invaluable. Rather than criticism, encourage the teams to see feedback as a way to strengthen their ideas and processes.
Encourage active listening –
Upfront communication can be a vital force in helping organizations to learn and succeed, by interacting with those who occupy high authorized positions, employees can help identify the problems and also opportunities for improvement of their organizations’ well-being. The key lies in creating liberal pathways to leadership, providing channels for the feedback and encouraging conversation. This is an important part of ensuring people that they are valued.
Earn each other’s trust –
It is always a team thing characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being their true selves. But it is not enough to just acknowledge the importance of trust, you also have to build it, keep it, and set an example for others.
Promote effectiveness –
It is seen that a good leadership reduces the threats that people feel inside the group, which gives them ample amount of time to focus more energy to protect the organization from the challenges in the world as well as to seize big opportunities.
Encourage creativity –
The essence of this approach is to build a culture around taking risks where all ideas are welcomed and encouraged and having everyone feel comfortable sharing their work and then learning and becoming better through further development.
Acknowledge fallibility –
To create psychological safety, leaders should exhibit the tolerance of failure by for example, acknowledging their own fallibility. Self-disclosure by team leaders is one of the best ways to do this. Team leaders must inspire team members to embrace their errors and deal with failure in a positive manner.
Be accessible and empathetic –
Being accessible is fundamental to building a psychologically safe environment. Leaders should encourage their teams to learn together by getting personally involved with tasks at hand. Traits such as lacking empathy, sensitive to criticism, not understanding humor and constantly seeking confirmation of their own greatness, create environments far from offering psychological safety.
Distinguish between psychological safety and accountability –
While psychological safety promotes not punishing people for errors harshly, it does not mean there are not any consequences for lack of performance. It is possible to reward excellence and authorize poor performance while also embracing unavoidable imperfections and errors. The balance between these two is greatly disturbed in the increasingly complex world we live in.
Benefits of psychological safety –
When it comes to a company’s culture, people often talk about the three key ingredients to ensure that it is healthy and thriving –
- A strong mission and vision that drives clarity for people in different roles
- Individual values should align with the company values, and
- The vision of professional growth.
As a leader, you can create environments that promote psychological safety. At the negative end of the spectrum, autocratic behavior, inaccessibility, or failure to acknowledge vulnerability can all contribute to team members’ reluctance towards taking personal risk. At the positive end of the spectrum there are a number of traits that a leader should display in order to foster psychological safety. Valuable benefits of psychological safety are-
Increased employee loyalty –
Employees tend to be more loyal towards their company when they get the accurate amount of psychological support at workplace. They are happier and more satisfied which eventually makes them more productive at what they do.
Encourages team collaboration –
Psychological safety helps ensure that despite of carrying out different functions, roles and designations, the employees in the organization do not feel in competition where they have to outperform each other. Such workplaces are able to develop healthier interpersonal relationships and work in collaboration towards achieving company goals.
Active participation –
In a psychologically safe environment, employees are able to see that their opinions matter and that they are permitted to make decisions in their respective areas of expertise. This is a great benefit for them to actively participate in all initiatives under their own will.
Positive work culture –
Positive work environment has a great impact on the mental well-being of the employees and contribute significantly to job satisfaction. It allows the employees to enjoy their work and develop bigger commitments towards their goals. A psychologically safe workforce is a win-win for both companies and its employees as it helps to reduce the turnover costs and create a more productive work environment.
Psychological safety is known to have an important relationship with diversity, inclusion and belonging. As the experts believe, diversity can be directly altered. It is a level that managers can efficiently pull, given the power and resources to do so. Specifically, managers can decide to hire a diverse talent pool which is not enough of course because inclusion is the next level, when people of diverse backgrounds feel that their voice is being heard and that they are included in the important decision making process. Then again it is possible for people to be at important meetings to speak up and still to not feel like they belong there. Belonging means a sense that one can thrive and feel truly a member of the community.
By implementing psychological safety in your own organization and building a kind of culture where people feel engaged and ready for success, shows a sensitivity to the needs and feelings of people. The cost of not investing in psychological safety is a loss of opportunity to learn something new. Psychologically safe employees are more concerned about the learning, excellence, and genuinely connecting with others. Without psychological safety, there is a greater risk of people getting hurt. Thus through this article we know that psychological safety is a necessary condition for organizational learning, innovation and excellence.